The Department of Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy (the DBCDE) has finished conducting an investigation into access to electronic media for the hearing and vision impaired. The Media Access Review started in April 2008, and has involved the Department's release of a Discussion Report and responses to the report, and the Department's subsequent release of a Discussion Paper and responses to the discussion paper.
The final report was released on 3 December 2010. A copy of the final report and the whole Media Access Review process can be found at the DBCDE website.
- Media access review final report
- Television audio description
- Television captioning
- Convergent and new media
- Other issues
- Future reviews of access to electronic media
On 3 December 2010, the Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy, Sen Stephen Conroy, released the ‘Investigation into access to electronic media for the hearing and vision-impaired: Media access review final report’ (the ‘Final Report’). This response by the Commonwealth Government to the Media Access Review ended a three-year investigation into accessibility issues, and included promising goals for the future of access to electronic media for the hearing impaired and vision impaired.
Also on 3 December 2010, Minister Conroy released the Commonwealth Government’s response to the Final Report. The Government is to move to immediately implement the Final Report’s recommendations, and will call on industry and disability group stakeholders to similarly take action to implement recommendations that affect them.
The Commonwealth Government will introduce legislation in 2011 to:
- Provide regulatory certainty by consolidating captioning requirements into the Broadcasting Services Act 1992
- Raise captioning targets to provide a better outcome for people with disability
- Introduce requirements for caption quality
The Final Report has indicated that the Commonwealth Government will commission a technical trial of closed audio description (AD) on ABC1 in the second half of 2011. The trial would involve the receiver-mixed broadcast of 14 hours of AD per day for 13 weeks (three months), and is expected to include the Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne regions. When considering that news programs are universally exempt from audio description requirements, this would equate to AD levels of a similar level to captioning.
Following the trial, the ACMA will conduct a report on it for the Commonwealth Government, and will also include research on community awareness of the AD trial and community attitudes towards and use of AD. The Commonwealth Government will then act upon the ACMA’s report on the technical trial to determine further AD requirements for television in general.
Importantly, the AD trial remains subject to funding approval (in the Commonwealth Budget).
The Final Report has determined that minimum captioning levels, caption quality and captioning requirements on subscription television will be legislated under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) (‘the BSA’), which will thus achieve regulatory certainty by removing television captioning from the scope of the Disability Discrimination Act 1996 (Cth). This means that the Australian Human Rights Commission (‘the AHRC’) will no longer have any jurisdiction over negotiating agreements for increased levels of captioning on television through the use of Section 55 Temporary Exemptions with industry bodies.
The proposed minimum captioning targets will see 100% of programming on the major channels captioned between 6 am and midnight by 2014. The ACMA will convene a meeting of consumer representatives, industry, Commonwealth Government and other stakeholders to determine how caption quality should be measured. The Final Report notes that the ‘overall comprehensibility’ test—which has been offered as a mechanism to determine adequate caption quality—has attracted criticism from consumer organisations and other stakeholders. Furthermore, the ACMA’s powers to investigate captioning complaints will be increased, and broadcasters will be required to report annually on their levels of captioning.
Subscription television will be required to meet captioning targets under the BSA for the first time, although the specific targets were not defined in the Final Report. Thus far, the subscription television industry body (the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association) has negotiated minimum captioning requirements with the AHRC (although the AHRC has rejected ASTRA’s latest application for a Section 55 Temporary Exemption, which ASTRA is currently appealing at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal). These captioning targets are to be agreed to by the industry, Government, and stakeholders by the end of the first quarter of 2011. It is unclear as to what would ensue if no agreement is reached.
The Commonwealth Government will call on the industry to improve the accessibility of electronic program guides (EPGs) and set-top boxes, and the ACMA is to consider mandating accessible EPGs or developing an EPG Code of Practice by 2012. The Commonwealth Government will continue to investigate and promote accessible set-top boxes, and the DBCDE will develop a website listing accessible set-top boxes.
The Final Report only recommends caption targets which apply to broadcasts between 6 am to midnight. Although it is implicit, the Final Report did not explicitly say that inadequately caption programs should not count toward minimum levels of captioning. Also, the Final Report left the question of captioning levels on digital multichannels to an expected 2012 review, thus continuing their exemption from minimum captioning requirements.
The Final Report acknowledged that the commitment of the major cinema chains (Hoyts, Village, Reading, and Event Greater Union Birch Carroll & Coyle) to improve cinema accessibility earlier this year, which will see at least one accessible cinema in every complex owned by these chains by 2014, was the biggest cinema access deal in Australia, and possibly the world. Given this agreement, the Final Report indicated that the Commonwealth Government will work with the Independent Cinemas Association to increase accessibility in independent cinemas, although no definite targets or deadlines for improved access were set. The Commonwealth Government will also ask Screen Australia to amend its Terms of Trade to require any films it produces to be captioned and audio described in addition to its current Terms of Trade which encourage producers to make their content accessible.
The Final Report acknowledged that the Australian Visual Software Distributors Association (AVSDA) has announced that all the major film distributors, and some smaller Australian independent distributors, will make available audio description and captioning on the ‘majority’ of theatrical films released on DVD. The Final Report made no recommendations on DVDs.
The Final Report noted that, with the introduction of the NBN, the capacity for new media content providers to deliver audio description and captions on their audiovisual content will be improved. It further noted that the national and commercial broadcasters are increasingly providing ‘catch-up’ and television-on-demand services (such as through the ABC’s iView service), but that the commercial TV industry does not support the introduction of access targets for television services which are broadcast online.
The Final Report acknowledged that the web industry (including Google and Telstra) believe that requiring (commercial) websites to be accessible through regulation would hinder the industry’s own efforts to improve accessibility. In contrast, the Final Report also acknowledged the concerns of consumer representatives that if the Commonwealth Government simply monitored web accessibility developments (i.e. without some kind of regulation), it may breach its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Final Report noted that the Commonwealth Government has committed to making its websites accessible. All Commonwealth Government agencies will be WCAG 2.0 Level A compliant by 2012, and Level AA compliant by 2014.
The Final Report defers comment on convergent and new media to a review of convergent media which is expected to begin in December 2010.
The Final Report noted that there are no legislative requirements for captions on television commercials. The Final Report called on the Commonwealth Government to request the Australian Association of National Advertisers to include captioning requirements in its code of practice.
The Government has already committed to establishing an SMS emergency service for people with a disability. The Final Report has called for captioning (or subtitling) of all pre-produced emergency broadcasts, and for important sections such as contact numbers have voice-overs. Furthermore, the Final Report called for the Commonwealth Government to work with industry to produce emergency warnings with accessibility features in a “timely and effective manner”.
Finally, the Final Report called for a review of the National Relay Service to be conducted jointly by the ACMA and the DBCDE, to determine how the service can be improved for the future.
The Final Report flagged several other reviews for the future. Next year, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (‘DBCDE’) will hold a Convergence Review. This review will, in particular, examine the convergence of content services (such as television) across different media (such as the Internet), and the regulatory problems and opportunities which this presents. The last Convergence Review was held in 2000, when the Internet (and broadband in particular) was still quite new to the Australian household.
Secondly, the Final Report acknowledged that, following the conclusion of the Multichannel Review earlier this year, a second review of digital multichannels is expected to be conducted by the end of 2012 to consider (amongst other issues) accessibility requirements.
Finally, the Final Report indicated that a second review of access to media would be held in 2014. This date is significant, as analog television signals will have been finally switched off throughout Australia. Many of the recommendations proposed in the Final Report have end-of-2013 deadlines, and the captioning exemption placed on digital multichannels as per the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Act 2010 will expire with the wholesale expiration of analog television at that time, as per the recommendations in the Multichannel Review.
That the Government includes new captioning targets in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, mandating 100 per cent captioning between 6.00 am and midnight on the primary television service provided by national broadcasters and commercial television by 2014.
That the Government prescribes the sections of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 that mandate captioning targets under subsection 47(2) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The legislative amendments would result in anyone acting in direct compliance with the prescribed part of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 no longer being subject to complaint under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
That the Government strengthens the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s powers to investigate complaints about television captioning matters and to require broadcasters to report annually on captioning levels.
That the Government includes captioning targets in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 for subscription broadcasters, provided appropriate targets can be agreed in the first quarter of 2011.
That the Government commissions a technical trial of audio description on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the second half of 2011, subject to funding approval.
That the Government gives further consideration to the introduction of progressive audio description requirements after the completion of the audio description trial and the receipt of technical advice from the Australian Communications and Media Authority on the results of the trial.
The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 be amended to include a reference to captions (for subscription and free-to-air television) of an ‘adequate quality’.
That the Australian Communications and Media Authority hosts captioning quality workshops, via a captioning committee, to develop criteria that the ACMA can use when assessing the quality of captions.
That the Government asks the Australian Association of National Advertisers to include requirements regarding the captioning of advertising content in its codes of practice. The requirements would have regard to (a) existing levels of captioning in advertising, (b) the commercial sensitivities for advertisers, especially in small advertising markets, and (c) the impact of any self-regulatory measures undertaken.
That people with disability should have access to emergency services when at home and outside of the home. The Government has committed to the establishment of an SMS emergency service for people with disability.
That the Government mandates the captioning or subtitling of all pre-produced emergency, disaster or safety announcements broadcast on television and introduces a voiceover requirement for essential information such as contact numbers.
That the Government acknowledges the community need for captioning and audio support for such warnings, and works with industry to develop such a capability so that warnings can be broadcast with these features in a timely and effective manner, noting that for emergency warning requests that are not pre-produced, the priority remains for the warning to be broadcast without delay.
That the Government calls on Free TV Australia to coordinate efforts to improve electronic program guide accessibility, in conjunction with their international counterparts.
That the Government asks the Australian Communications and Media Authority to consider including accessibility features as a key requirement for electronic program guides, or to develop a Code of Practice for electronic program guides by 2012.
That the Government continues to investigate the technical specifications of set-top boxes to ensure set-top boxes are as user-friendly as possible and include specifications designed to assist people with hearing or vision impairments.
That the Government develops a website that allows manufacturers to list product and accessibility features of set-top boxes and digital equipment to enhance consumer awareness.
That the Government continues to monitor ongoing developments by the major cinema chains to achieve the commitments they have made to the Australian Government and disability groups.
That the Government works with the Independent Cinema Association in achieving increased levels of accessibility in independent cinemas, having regard to differing levels of commercial viability and capacity to implement accessibility changes.
That the Government asks Screen Australia to amend its Terms of Trade to require the feature films it finances to be audio-described and captioned for cinemas and DVD.
That the Government, in conjunction with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, conducts a review to explore how the National Relay Service could be improved and developed for the future.
That the Government continues to encourage industry to partner with the disability representative groups to improve online accessibility through the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.
That the Government commences another review of captioning and audio description on electronic media in Australia by 2014. The review will evaluate the impact of changes introduced in response to all the recommendations outlined in this report and the impact of technological change in the media environment, following the completion of analog television switch off at the end of 2013. The review will consider what further actions are appropriate based on the media environment at that time.
Media Access Australia is publishing a series of commentaries in relation to the media access review.
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