The History of the Captioning Working Group. …. “we’re not stopping until the ultimate goal has been reached. Legislation…”

Back in the 90s various Deaf and Hard of Hearing people from across New Zealand successfully lobbied government for captions on our television. They managed to get yearly funding of $800,000 for this to happen. Many will remember the Telethon that got this going. This has increased only once since then.

Despite continued lobbying from a number of organisations working separately, progress was poor.

That changed in 2011 when three organisations, Deaf Aotearoa, Hearing Association and The National Foundation for the Deaf, nominated representatives from their Executive Boards or staff to join the Captioning Working Group. Active CWG members are all Deaf or Hard of Hearing and fully understand the importance of captioning.

The first year was a concentrated information gathering. We had meetings with the broadcasters, New Zealand On Air, with the captioning Team from TVNZ (now Able), with Government, advertisers, and Cinema, and by jove we learned a lot. We also did some research amongst our community to find out what people wanted when it came to captioning.

The second year we started being more vocal about what we, the collective community needed using feedback, research, and facebook groups etc. Our perception is that we come across as passionate, hardworking, and a force to be reckoned with.

In 2013 we campaigned hard to get the TVNZ captioning service separated from TVNZ headquarters; worked closely with Sky TV to introduce captioning and advocated with the Screen Association for captioned cinema.

We’re winning. We may not have 100% captioning yet, or legislation changes in the Broadcasting or Communication Acts, but compared to when we started, things have improved. And we’re not stopping until the ultimate goal has been reached. Legislation. Making captioning mandatory.

Some of the successes along the way have been..

  1. Captioning introduced on 17 Sky channels: We actually asked why they had captioned now and not before. They told us ‘we gave up’. They still have a long way   to go, but it was a great start.
  2. Captioning services moved from TVNZ: A new Trust, called Able formed to offer captioning services to all broadcasters. Although Able is now separate, the   amount of captioning on TV3 still needs to be addressed, but the issue of commercial sensitivity problem is resolved.
  3. Digital Cinemas throughout New Zealand now available: cinemas can now offer captions at any showing providing they have the right equipment. Talk to  your local cinema about getting those in for you. We worked closely with The Screen Association of New Zealand, and in particular Tony Eaton who has been a          champion for our cause.


In 2014 we launched the CaptionitNZ campaign to raise awareness of the need for and benefits of captioning and seek changes to legislation for mandatory closed captions On TV, On Demand and On Web. We’ve already seen captioning of political programming, and the Parliamentary Administration Committee has recommended captioning of Parliamentary TV.

As you may appreciate, as well as the visible progress, we work behind the scenes. We…

  1. Advocate directly with Government and associated agencies such as NZ On Air
  2. We meet with MPs across the political spectrum and have worked closely with Mojo Mathers and other parliamentarians with Disability and Health portfolios
  3. Meet regularly with broadcasters and media companies to request improvements in access
  4. We seek input from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities (via social media and more ‘traditional’ methods)
  5. We keep in close contact with international contacts and get advice from their successes
  6. We are pushing hard for Legislation in both the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunication Act which will cover all types of captioning – On TV, On Demand and on the internet (whether this be a streamed service or simply a video clip of TV content)
  7. We push for progressive realisation in compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that is, a commitment from broadcasters to increase their captioning access at a rate of 10% per year until we reach at least 80% over daytime television – that is from 6am through to midnight each and every day.
  8. We champion the closed captioning movement in Cinema working with the Screen Association of NZ as above
  9. We do monthly monitoring on the hours of captioning per week to keep tabs on the statistics
  10. We do the Captioning Awards to make sure the best is recognised which will make the industry strive to do the very best.
  11. We meet with new players in the market and try and encourage them through education to caption. A recent example is Telecom’s Lightbox.


Its very true that Broadcasting is changing. What we watch, how we watch it, when we watch it is all changing. Some want entertainment, others sports, some to be informed. Without legislation, Deaf & HOH New Zealanders will be left further behind as new service offerings do not address the needs of our community. NO Ondemand service in New Zealand is captioned. Very few advertisements are. New subscription services are introduced and don’t caption. Captioning on subscription TV and Free to Air TV is well below International best practise.

The Captioning Working Group meets face to face monthly. We know that things move slowly at times but, believe me, we are constantly pushing boundaries. We do this as work as volunteers, and with a small budget from the NFD Trust grant to cover travel cost and our meeting venue in Wellington has been generously provided cost free by the Hearing Association Wellington and in Auckland by The National Foundation for the Deaf.

What can you do to help achieve captioning?

  • You can help by supporting the #CaptionitNZ campaign
  • Like our page on Facebook:
  • Following our Blog.  (
  • And following on Twitter: @captionitNZ

The important thing to keep our group out there in the stratosphere is to comment, like and share our content as much as possible.  We need you to work with us…




Who we are

Why we need closed captions

Captioning on Lightbox


See an Index of all our Captioning Blogs here.