‘Media Watch’ puts the spotlight on poor captioning

Tuesday, 8 March 2011 10:01am

Last night’s episode of Media Watch on the ABC looked at the state of news captioning on Australian television, and found that all too often the quality is so poor that captions are incomprehensible.

The program, which can be viewed on ABC's iView service with captions, noted that many of the problems stem from an increased use of ‘voice captioning’ (where a captioner re-speaks dialogue as a program goes to air and speech recognition software converts it into captions). Previously, live programs and live segments of news bulletins could only be captioned by highly-paid, highly-trained stenocaptioners. Voice recognition offers a cheap alternative to this, but the result can be inferior, especially when voice captioners are given insufficient preparation time.

Captions for Seven, Nine, Ten and SBS are produced by Red Bee Media Australia, which now uses voice recognition extensively. Media Watch noted that Seven is the only network which continues to insist that, as far as possible, captioners prepare captions from scripts and vision, and that these are transmitted as ‘block captions’ (rather than as ‘scrolling captions that appear one word at a time). One Red Bee captioner was quoted as saying, “Increased workload, lack of preparation time, and old software are the biggest problems. Morale is very, very low.”

Julie Flynn of Free TV Australia said, “We believe the voluntary guidelines should be given a chance to work.” A spokesperson from the Deafness Forum of Australia responded, “The current guidelines have been voluntary, and the standards have been slipping.”


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