Policy and expectations

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What you can expect on free-to-air television

When digital broadcasting commenced in Australia in 2001, the Broadcasting Services Act 1999 stipulated that all channels which were broadcast digitally had to caption all their news and current affairs programming, and all programming from 6.00pm to 10.30pm (prime time). Subsequent to this, a series of agreements made between the Australian Human Rights Commission and Free TV Australia saw the major broadcasters providing a significant levels of captioning between 6.00am and midnight, rising to 90% in 2012.

In June 2012 the Senate passed the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Improved Access to Television Services) Bill 2012 (PDF and Word versions of this can be download from the DBCDE website). This bill amended the Broadcasting Services Act so that it now requires 100% of 6.00 am to midnight programming to be captioned by 2015. The bill took effect on 1 July 2012.

However, digital multichannels (such as 7mate, Go!, and Eleven) only have to caption a program if it was shown with captions on its parent channel earlier, or if it is simulcast on the parent channel with captions. A review of the multichannel regulations was due to take place before the end of 2012 but this did not happen.

There is as yet no audio description service on Australian television, or any legislation requiring it.  However, a trial of audio description took place on ABC1 between 5 August and 4 November 2012. This was a technical trial to work out how and if audio description could be delivered on television in the future.

For more detailed information, see our page on the regulation of free-to-air television captioning.

Subscription television

Prior to 2012, there was no legislation requiring subscription television to provide access services (either captions or audio description). However, a series of agreements brokered by the Australian Human Rights Commission led to over 50 channels on FOXTEL and AUSTAR providing some captioning, although levels of captioning on these channels vary considerably. The last of these agreements was announced in May 2012. 

This agreement was superseded by the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Improved Access to Television Services) Bill 2012, which amended  the Broadcasting Services Act so that for the first time it includes caption quotas for subscription television services.  Channels are divided into 9 categories, with captioning levels ranging from 60% in 2012-2013 (Category A subscription television movie service) to 5% in 2012-2013 (subscription television music service).

For more detailed information, see our page on the regulation of subscription television captioning.

DVD and Blu-ray

There are no general requirements for DVDs and Blu-ray disks to have access services.  However, any DVD and Blu-ray disks whose feature film format was financed by Screen Australia since 1 July 2011 must be captioned and audio described.

The Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association (AHEDA) also encourages its members to import audio described and captioned DVDs from international sources where possible. Complaints regarding DVD access can be made to AHEDA. Please see our guide to making DVD complaints.

For more detailed information, see our page on the regulation of cinemas and DVDs.

Online video

There is currently no legislation in Australia requiring captions or audio description on online videos (including catch up TV and video on demand services). However, the Council of Commonwealth, State and Territory communications ministers adopted international standard for web accessibility produced by the W3C, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, in November 2009.

Building on this agreement, the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS) was launched in June 2010 by the Australian Government Information Management Organisation (AGIMO). While AGIMO has directed State and Territory governments to adopt WCAG 2.0, technically it as no jurisdiction over them. However, all but one State government has now publicly agreed to adopt WCG 2.0 A (which makes captioning of pre-recorded videos compulsory), although timelines differ slightly.

  • Victoria, NSW, Northern Territory and ACT have agreed to comply with requirements fully, making WCAG 2.0 A mandatory by 31 December 2012, and WCAG  2.0 AA by 31 December 2014.
  • Queensland has already implemented WCAG 2.0 A and WCAG 2.0 AA (although it has excluded guideline 1.2, which states that live video must be captioned, and pre-recorded video must be audio described).
  • Western Australia has agreed to comply with requirements fully, but will implement both WCAG 2.0 A and WCAG 2.0 AA by 31 December 2013.
  • Tasmania has agreed to implement WCAG 2.0, but has not specified a date yet.
  • South Australia has not yet announced whether it will comply with the requirements.

For more information see our page on Online policy and expectations.

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Tags: TV & video