Consultation paper provides opportunity to comment on TV captioning regulations

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Wednesday, 28 January 2015 15:36pm

The Federal Government today released a consultation paper which proposes a number of changes to the regulations governing free-to-air television. The consultation process provides an opportunity for consumers to comment on current captioning regulations, and the fact that multi-channels such as Gem, 7Two, Eleven, ABC2 and SBS2 remain exempt from the captioning requirements that apply to primary channels.

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The ‘Consultation Paper: Digital Television Regulation’ is part of a review of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA) which is taking place now that the switchover to digital-only television has been completed. Many of the regulations concerning the switchover process are redundant and will be removed from the BSA, while the Government also ”considers that it is time to review the current broadcasting regulatory framework to ensure it is fit-for-purpose for the next wave of innovation in the media sector”.

Most of the proposed changes in the consultation paper concern issues such as the networks’ use of their share of the broadcasting spectrum, and whether they should be able to share it with third parties. It does not specifically mention the multichannel captioning regulations, but invites the public to raise other matters that are pertinent to digital television regulation.

The multi-channels are currently exempt from the caption regulations which apply to primary channels (which must now caption 100% of programs between 6 am and midnight). Instead, the only programs which must be captioned on multi-channels are repeats which were originally captioned for a network’s primary channel. The previous federal government had scheduled a review of the multi-channel regulations for the end of 2012, but this did not take place.

“The multichannel captioning regulations are clearly out of date,” said Chris Mikul, Media Access Australia’s Project Manager for Television. “We now see content moving from the primary channels to the multi-channels and back again. For TV viewers, they are all just channels, and they should have uniform captioning rules.”

The consultation paper also discusses the regulatory implications for the online delivery of free-to-air services. Media Access Australia strongly believes that any content which has been captioned for television broadcast should be also be captioned when delivered online, as is the case in the US.

The deadline for submissions in response to the ‘Consultation Paper: Digital Television Regulation’ is Tuesday, 31 March, 2015.

Last year, the Government proposed other changes to the captioning requirements in the BSA as part of its repeal red tape campaign. Most of the changes, including an end to the need for broadcasters to submit annual captioning compliance reports, are opposed by Media Access Australia and other consumer advocacy groups. The changes were referred to a Senate committee which is due to report on them on 9 February.

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