Senate committee reports on proposed captioning changes

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Tuesday, 10 February 2015 15:45pm

The Senate committee which reviewed the Government’s proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act, including changes to the captioning provisions, has issued its report. It has supported all but one of the proposed changes, including an end to the requirement that free-to-air networks need to make annual captioning compliance reports. The only amendment it has rejected is the cancellation of a scheduled review by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), although it recommends this be delayed by three years.

Fine tip pen resting on a printed document

The Environmental Communications and Legislative Committee was asked to examine the Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014, introduced to Parliament last October. Deaf Australia, the Deafness Forum of Australia, Media Access Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission were among the organisations which made submissions to the committee and broadly opposed the amendments, while Free TV, the ABC and SBS broadly supported them.

The committee accepted the arguments of the Department of Communications and the broadcasters that reporting requirements were onerous, and removing them would not lead to a decrease in captioning levels. It supported the move to a system based on consumers making complaints when broadcasters are in breach of the rules, agreeing that this was feasible now that 100% of programs between 6 am and midnight have to be captioned on free-to-air primary channels, so people will know what has to be captioned. Media Access Australia argued that this ignores the more complex rules applying to multi-channels, which most consumers will not be aware of, and, along with other consumer groups, maintained that it should not be the job of consumers to police the system.

Media Access Australia and the access provider Ai-Media argued that the reporting requirements should be simplified, but reporting should not be abandoned altogether.

The proposed amendment that new subscription channels should be exempt from captioning requirements for a period of one to almost two years was opposed by consumer groups, who pointed out that there were already rules in place that allowed for exemptions. The committee supported the amendment, noting that all the exemption applications lodged with the ACMA in 2013-14 were approved.

The committee also recommended passing amendments involving:

  • The aggregation of caption quotas on subscription sports channels.
  • A relaxation of repeat obligations for subscription channels.
  • A change to ACMA’s captions quality standards, acknowledging the difference between live and pre-recorded programming (although Media Access Australia, Free TV and Ai-Media found the wording of this confusing).
  • Captioning problems caused by technical issues should not count against broadcaster’s caption quality obligations.

The committee found that there had been inadequate consultation prior to the bill being introduced, and recommended that the scheduled review by the ACMA of caption regulations, with proper consultation with the public and other interested parties, should go ahead. However, it should be pushed back from the end of 2015 to the end of 2018.

The Australian Greens who took part in the committee issued a dissenting report, recommending that reporting requirements be maintained but simplified, and that the remainder of the bill be delayed until other concerns are addressed. This is attached as an amendment to the report.

The full report can be downloaded from the committee’s web page.

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