Captioning Policies in New Zealand Across All Parties. “…support for captioning should not be a political issue – it’s all about access”

We’ve said from the outset that support for captioning should not be a political issue because it’s about access.

As a country we are a signatory to the United Nations Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and Article 9 – Accessibility applies to all people all of the time. This week New Zealand’s track record against the CRPD is under the microscope in Geneva, and access to captioning has been raised by Professor Ron McCallum and questioned. Good on him!

We firmly believe that all political parties in New Zealand do support the call for better access but, it’s how they are supporting it that is the concern.

This election seems to have been dominated by lots of disagreement however in a show of unity last week at the Disability14 IHC election event in Wellington, National, Labour and Green all agreed there needed to be more captioning! We couldn’t agree more.

We’ve taken a look at what each party has told us recently in respect of captioning and how they are using captions to get their own message out.

Whichever party is in power next week, we look forward to working across all parties, and with the NZ community that benefit from captioning, ( over the next parliamentary term to improve the state of captioning in New Zealand.

National Party

Captioning is covered in the National Arts Heritage & Broadcasting Policy

Under the heading of “Increasing the amount of captioned content” it states National will “continue to work with Broadcasters to use digital technology to increase the amount of captioning both on TV and online. Over the past decade the amount of captioned content has greatly increased but we believe more can be done”.

National Party Image 2014-09-17 at 12.39.26 pm

The policy goes on to mention of the changing nature of television stating, “legislation needs to be reviewed and updated to ensure it’s appropriate for the digital age”. It refers to the incredible depth of TVNZ archives and wanting to make those available online including for the use by teachers. We agree these should be available, especially as they were created with taxpayer funding, and trust that as they are released online, they will also be captioned.

At the recent IHC Election Disability forum, National candidate Paul Foster Bell stated, “In terms of the hearing impaired and deaf community this is an area that I personally have a family interest in, in that my mother is a member of that community. We’ve done a couple of specific things including in this years budget announcing that we will be funding bilateral cochlear implants. That’s two implants rather than just one and we know that that will be a positive thing. Because when you are dealing with children who are active and perhaps out in the elements in our country there’s a chance that a single cochlear implant can be damaged and fail and can breakdown so providing a second is a useful thing to do in terms of having a backup. But also we know all the evidence suggests it leads to better outcomes in the education system. This is on top of significant investment into NZSL which I welcome and I appreciate that challenges remain including captioning we have seen a significant increase in captioning but I’d like to see further still

This policy is consistent with what National said all year in respect of captioning. The approach is one of encouragement to broadcasters but no commitment for legislation or regulation.

It is great that the changes in the digital world are acknowledged as the advent of this technology creates more avenues for television/video. Broadcasting is becoming increasingly device agnostic – available on your TV and wherever you can get online with streaming services. This is one of the reasons that we believe changes are required in both the Broadcasting & Telecommunications acts.

Lets look at Party communications. All National’s election advertisements appear on TV with captioning. The TV opening election broadcast was available on YouTube a few days after the event without captioning, but has now been taken off the National Party channel.

National say they caption all content on their YouTube channel. It’s true they did start doing this in winter 2014; however most content recently published on their YouTube channel has been released without captioning (0 of 14 videos published in the last 2 weeks are same language captioned).

Getting information out to people at the same time is about equal access. It’s not acceptable that there are delays in captioning and we encourage National (and all parties) to caption from the get go. YouTube makes this very easy to do.

National also make extensive use of video on Facebook. Captioning is not yet supported on Facebook in this country (it is available in the US now). Good practice is to include a link direct to YouTube or Vimeo as well when posting video content. This works well…. if the YouTube channel has the captions! The Electoral Commission has used this technique during the election.

Annabel (8), the poster child for our campaign wrote to the Prime Minister personally about her concerns over the lack of captioning. Her classmates did the same.


Labour includes captioning in their Disability Policy.

It states “New Zealand’s rate of public broadcast captioning is available at less than 25% over a 24 hour period. This is well behind other countries such as Australia (85%) or the United States and United Kingdom (100%). This low level of captioning is a barrier to community integration for the people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and may be considered to breach article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Labour will improve the level of captioning of Television programmes, working towards agreed targets, to meet the needs of New Zealanders who are Deaf or Hearing Impaired.”

1. labour policy

Kris Fafoi, shadow spokesperson for Broadcasting, said at the recent IHC forum:

“As a broadcasting spokesperson I’d like to agree with Paul Foster Bell that there isn’t enough captioning of television. So as Broadcasting spokesperson we are going to commit to make sure that any New Zealand On Air funded content is captioned and make sure that, and work with the broadcasters, to make sure that we can have close to 100% captioning”

He further went on to say

“If you’ve got Sky I’ve got good news, they are very very proactive and making sure that there are more captions so that’s one thing as broadcasting spokesperson I hope to make sure happens”.

What we don’t know is specifically how Labour will ensure these changes happen. It seems most likely they will regulate or legislate to ensure they do, based on these statements.

Kris Faafoi If you've got Sky

We don’t have details on the latest Sky plans either but lets hope it involves captioning of Prime TV and captioning on the new OnDemand channel!

Lets look at the Labour party communications. Captioning of the election advertisements has been inconsistent. Sometimes the adverts have appeared with captions, other times not.

The Labour party have made extensive use of their YouTube channel throughout the election campaign, however, like National, much of their recent content is posted without captioning. 0 of 18 videos posted in the last 2 weeks have captions. However the TV opening election broadcast appeared on YouTube with captioning on the night of the first broadcast.

Has Annabel campaigned with Labour? Well yes, she lives in the Rongotai electorate and her local MP is the current Labour Minister for Health, Annette King.

Annette King came out publicly in support of the campaign following Annabel’s meeting saying, “I am going to join their fight, Deaf people do deserve words”. This strong commitment even received some international web coverage.

So a mixed message from Labour in respect of their own communications but demonstrating commitment to regulation/legislation for captioning, and good acknowledgment of the Human Rights associated with the access it gives.

Green Party

The Green Party have a profoundly deaf MP, Mojo Mathers (the 5th in the world) so it perhaps comes as no surprise that the captioning policy announcements they made are the strongest from a legislative perspective in respect of captioning.

In their Disability Policy it states that the Green Party will “Amend the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act to require targets for phasing in captioning for all broadcast and on-demand TV.” The policy will cover all ensuring “regulations are introduced for mandatory captioning by broadcasters of both broadcast and on- demand TV. These regulations will establish a quota system, phased in over time, for broadcasters to provide captioning with the goal of achieving 100 percent captioning by 2017 for state-owned Television New Zealand (TV1 and TV2) and by 2020 for TV3. All other broadcasters will have targets and time frames set out on a case-by-case basis as a proportion of their profits. Once 100 percent captioning has been achieved for TVNZ and TV3, current funding for captioning for the networks will be phased out. The funding will instead be used for monitoring of captioning for quality control.” The policy goes on to say “The Green Party will also require any film, TV programme, video or DVD resource produced with public funding (whether from NZ on Air funding or via departmental grants) to be tied to a requirement to provide closed captioning – whether on-air or other mediums.” The policy also states they “will also introduce quotas for audio-description and New Zealand Sign Language content.”

Green Party Solution

The policy is a clear proposing legislative change and designed to ensure captions will be provided by broadcasters and available on all channels including Ondemand services.

Lets turns to their own communications.

All TV adverts from NZ Green Party have been captioned. The TV Election Opening Statement was published with captioning on YouTube prior to being broadcast on TV.

As a party they have made extensive use of open and closed captions on their YouTube channel and all recent videos (7 of 15) have had open or closed captions OR New Zealand Sign Language interpreters (8 of 15). We commend this level of accessibility.

Green Youtube Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 8.31.35 pm

Annabel has met Mojo several times most recently at the IHC event in Wellington.

The Green Party has the most comprehensive legislative based policy and appears to walk the talk in terms of their own party communications.

So to the smaller parties – you never know, they could well hold the balance of power.

NZ First

NZ First traditionally have a lot of voter support from a demographic that stands to benefit from captioning. Disabling hearing loss occurs in 1 in 3 people over the age of 65. We asked, “What is your party policy in relation to captioning for accessibility of TV & Web?” Their reply “Hi, we’d support this in principle subject to funding being available”.

NZ First Twitter

This campaign believes that captioning should be the responsibility of broadcasters. In both Australia & United Kingdom, several broadcasters exceed the captioning targets set down by authorities on a voluntary basis – Sky in the UK is one of them. We have been unable to find a specific policy reference related to broadcasting accessibility in any of their policies.

NZ First has not used YouTube recently.

United Future

Damian Light, spoke at the CCS Disability Action, OneVoice forum in Auckland in late August and we learnt over twitter “we want broadcasting to be more inclusive, so more captioning & audio desc. Not mandatory yet but if necessary”.

This week he advised “our preference is via regulation but we support legislation if regulation doesn’t work (I know Australia had to)”.

United Twitter

Their Broadcasting, Communications & Technology policy has this to say “UnitedFuture is committed to a broadcasting system that is inclusive, responsive and broad-based for all New Zealanders”

The opening TV Broadcast is available on their YouTube Channel with autocaptioning only. It’s an easy trap to fall into. The robots at YouTube did Ok with the accents but there are some references to butts instead of bits! Good captioning needs people to check and edit what the robots come up.

The party has made good use of Peter Dunne’s YouTube channel throughout the campaign, however none of the last 15 videos have been captioned.

So a statement supporting captioning from United Future who look like they would start with regulation, as well as recognition over twitter at least that autocaptioning needs improvement.

Internet Party

The Internet Party tells us “We support all measures to make NZ more inclusive, including full captioning”.

Internet Party Twitter

What we don’t know is how they would look to achieve this, either by encouragement, regulation or legislation.

The Internet Party Election opening broadcast was published on YouTube in quick time with captioning straight away.

The Party use YouTube extensively and frequently link social media traffic to their YouTube channel. Recent YouTube content has not been captioned (0 of 12). Credit where it is due, 5 months ago, the Party were quick to caption the Internet Party launch material captioning in full a fifteen minute speech with less than a three-hour turnaround.

We don’t have confirmation that the partnering Mana party are in full support of the comment made by the Internet party for captioning, however Internet/Mana posted a YouTube video of their “Te Tai Tokerau Highlights” which was captioned from the outset, and tagged this to us on Twitter.

Maori Party

After some detective work we spotted this statement on the Disability Policy for the Maori Party. They will “Promote captioning across media to ensure disabled people can access information and communication on an equal basis with others”. Of the three videos posted recently on their YouTube channel, none have captioning.

So what of the others?

We have been unable to obtain any details of captioning policy from the Conservative Party or the Act Party.

A few other observations:

As an entirely voluntary campaign we haven’t been watching TV 100% of the time, nor have we attended the numerous political events that have been held throughout the campaign but to the best of our knowledge:

• We haven’t seen any use of live captioning at political meetings, or campaign launches by any of the parties.

• YouTube (and Vimeo) make captioning so easy, but many are choosing not to caption clips. This is an easy win for many and we’d encourage parties and businesses to do this. If some charities can do this surely big business & politicians can


As with most things in life awareness and education goes a long way to seed change.

We know for sure that this campaign is being heard – we can see that in behavior’s beginning to change. The changes may be small but they are becoming more widespread.

The good news is that most parties have some degree of support for captioning. Some are taking the approach of encouraging broadcasters; others appear to prefer a regulation approach, with just one so far making a clear statement endorsing legislation.

How long it takes for this support to crystallise into action, and how each Party will ensure the actual words appear on TV screens and web capable devices coming to a screen near you soon, is now the great unknown.

It is clear, that the campaign is having an impact. Thanks for your support.


How many people benefit from captioning?

National Party Policy – Arts Heritage & Broadcasting

National Party on our Blog

Labour Policy – Disability Issues

Labour Party on our Blog

Green Party – Disability Policy

Green Party on our Blog

United Future Policy

Maori Party Policy


This assessment was completed based on information available by 5pm Thursday 18 September 2014. Policy and websites change so this is a snapshot at that time. Some responses were received directly from the political parties, others from Internet searching.

YouTube has been considered in this evaluation as many in New Zealand rely on YouTube to source material owing to
• TV Ondemand services having no captioning
• There being no requirement for content shown on the web (e.g. a OneNews website) that has been aired with captioning on TV to be captioned when shown over the web

It is possible other advertisements/content has appeared with captioning and we have not seen them. If indeed this is the case, please do let us know.


Special thanks to The National Foundation for the Deaf who made their political party questionnaire responses available to us.

Thank you to IHC New Zealand who made their video content from the recent Disability Forum available online. They have been progressively captioning their video from this event. At the time of writing, 14 of the 18 videos on their playlist have been captioned! Do check them out here

For more information about the CaptionitNZ campaign and New Zealand Captioning Working Group members.

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  1. Pingback: Reflections on Saturday – the Election 2014 might be done, but Annabel’s campaign goes on. "She wanted to see who won the election and whether her dream of 100% captioning in NZ would come true." | We Need Words September 23, 2014

    […] recently she asked me if Mr Key and Mr Cunliffe always wear the same tie! She can tell you what the National, Labour and Green Party all think about captioning. She’s written to the Prime Minister, she’s been to see her local Labour MP Annette […]

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