New Zealand National Party Announced their ‘Arts, Heritage & Broadcasting’ Policy Today. “Frankly, the current approach of encouragement is not working. “

It states…

“National is also committed to increasing the amount of captioning for deaf and hearing impaired New Zealanders. “Over the last decade the amount of captioned content has greatly increased, but we believe more can be done”

In 2011 in response to questions raised in the Parliamentary House the minister of Broadcasting advised 240 hours of Television had been captioned for week.

In 2014 in response to questions raised in the Parliamentary House it was 250 hours.

An additional 10 hours in the last 3.5 years is hardly statistically significant.

Tonight there is another leaders debate on the TV, shown on TV3. It’s not captioned and therefore inaccessible to Deaf & Hard of Hearing New Zealanders – on TV, On Demand and Online. TV3 cannot support live captioning. Perhaps the politicians should take a stand and not make an appearance? But that would reduce where their message would be heard and they don’t like that….. but that’s how many people in New Zealand feel daily.

tweet - leaders debate

“We will continue to work with broadcasters to use digital technology to increase the amount of captioning both on television and online.”

As most that have any interest in the disability community will know, ‘nothing about us, without us’ is a key requirement. Perhaps feeling generous I will give them them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the omission of working with the community that will benefit the most from this is an oversight, however if 2014 is anything to go by, I would need some convincing.

The level of funding to NZ On Air to support captioning has not increased since 2010 (1.9M). The campaign for which I am an ambassador and my 8 year old daughter is the poster child of, believes that there will only be a genuine increase in media captioning through the introduction of legislation, as has been successfully implemented in UK, US and Australia. This legislation places the onus on Broadcasters and other media companies. In those countries good broadcasters often exceed their captioning targets. Several media companies, including the firms that own TV3 and Lightbox hide behind the NZ On Air funding as an excuse for lack of captioning.

Frankly, the current approach of encouragement is not working.

Earlier this year the government released a report on the success of the going digital project.

It states….

“the transmission costs of digital services are substantially cheaper than analogue. Across all broadcasters, these savings were estimated to be between $30-40 million per annum”

If indeed this is the case, there is plenty of capacity for these Broadcasters to fund captioning requirements.

It also states that one of the key project outcomes is…

“Digital switchover completion also enabled New Zealand to keep pace with Australia and most other developed nations which have also gone digital or are about to do so”.

For captioning New Zealand is decades behind the UK, Australia and the US.

It further states….

‘The key advice from the UK and Australia was to adhere to strict switchover deadlines and to be clear about the consequences of not going digital in time’.

The same should be applied to introduction of captioning and consequences on broadcasters if they fail to do so. This has been successfully implemented in Australia, UK and US where regulatory bodies have substantial powers to revoke licenses and fine broadcasters for failure to comply with a range of accessibility requirements. This includes but is not limited to captioning/subtitles, signed programmes and audio description targets. Broadcasters are required to self report adherence.

If the current National Party policy is right, why do we have these real life examples to contend with every day?

• No significant increase in the number of hours captioned during the Going Digital campaign. 240 hours in 2011, and 250 hours in 2014.

• No TV OnDemand service in New Zealand supports closed captions (TVNZ, Media Works, Sky) including those recently introduced

• No captioning on some channels at all (Prime) and very limited live captioning in use. Popular live programs are in the main broadcast without captions. There is no commitment to provide these services.

• Many New Zealanders are left out of the political process simply because they cannot access news programs and documentaries ‘in the moment’.

• More pay per view, subscription TV services are arriving in New Zealand and are taking the uncaptioned path – Lightbox does not offer captioning, and there is no commitment from Sky to caption their new service launching later this year

• Try finding a captioned clip on the net of a comment made on TV by a politician – it simply does not exist in NZ

I get that the approach of the National party is to shy away from legislating businesses. However, I would say that it is just as important to protect the rights of the many New Zealanders that need and or benefit from captions. If the UK, US and Australia have all been prepared to tackle this problem, surely New Zealand can.

This really shouldn’t be a political issue, its about accessibility, and I for one, want a New Zealand that is accessible.

Helen MacKay

References.

Press Release

National’s Arts, Heritage and Broadcasting Policy

Going Digital On Time & Under Budget

Captionit NZ Captioning is not satisfactory

Why We Need Closed Captions

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