Consumers condemn proposed changes to captioning regulations

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Thursday, 30 October 2014 11:27am

Consumer groups have condemned the Federal Government’s proposals to change the rules governing captioning which were introduced in Parliament last week as part of its Repeal Red Tape campaign.

Scissors cutting through red tape

Deaf Australia, the Deafness Forum of Australia, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) and Media Access Australia (MAA) believe the proposed changes to the Broadcasting Services Act are a retrograde step which has been undertaken without proper consumer consultation and will wind back consumer protection.

The proposed changes include:

  1. Removing compliance reporting for free-to-air television so they no longer have to publically report that they are meeting the captioning regulations.
  2. More complex calculations for determining how much captioning sports channels should provide.
  3. Watering down measurement and regulation of caption quality.

“Captions are the only way Deaf or hearing impaired Australians can access television,” said Wayne Hawkins, ACCAN Disability Policy Advisor. “The ACMA has no monitoring mechanism to ensure caption compliance, and with no reporting requirement for broadcasters, consumers will be left to do the job of the regulator”.

Alex Varley, CEO of MAA said the lack of consultation with consumers means the changes won’t balance the need to contain regulatory costs with protecting consumer interests.

“This bill has many complex and contradictory elements and the proper course of action would be to withdraw it and engage in a consultation process with all parties including consumers and broadcasters, to ensure that the issues have been properly discussed,” said Varley.

“It took more than a decade of advocacy to get to this point where we have legislation which means that a hundred percent of programs on the main free-to-air channels between 6am and midnight must be captioned.”  Deafness Forum chairman David Brady said. “That’s a good result, but we’re still lagging behind Britain and the United States, and the proposed changes will do nothing to inspire consumer confidence that the broadcasters are meeting their captioning obligations.”

The Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014 was read into the House of Representatives on 22 October 2014. MAA has prepared a detailed analysis [Word DOC, 28KB] of the changes it proposes and their potential impact on consumers.

Update: a petition has been started on to keep mandatory reporting on closed captioning for free-to-air broadcasters, directly addressing the Federal Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull.

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