Watching Captioned TV in the UK – “I don’t understand the stance the New Zealand Government has on not legislating for Captioning.”

My first foray into the joy of captioning in the UK was on a Tuesday morning. While my daughter and her friends chatted and made breakfast, I noticed the breakfast news on. With Captions. I was riveted. This was the equivalence of our TV1’s Breakfast news. Same format even. And it was 100% live captioned. There was virtually no delay because the captions were done by scrolling. That is, the method used was re-speaking technology like Able use, but instead of speaking a couple of sentences then putting the captions up in a block like they do here, which is frustrating as it means quite a delay, the words were scrolled on the screen as they were spoken. Sure there were a few errors, some were corrected, but generally it was pretty accurate, and even if something was slightly wrong, by the power of my brain and my expert puzzle solving skills, enhanced by years of lip-reading, I was able to follow it very nicely. I was in love. I grabbed my computer and googled ‘emigrating to the UK from NZ’. Unfortunately I’m not the demographic they’re after. Drat.

While we in New Zealand are desperately trying to raise the awareness of the need for legislation with our government, the UK and the whole of Europe, already have this Legislation. Each and every broadcaster in Europe has to report to the EEC each year on the amount of captioning they have provided, and show that they have increased it by X%. Not every country is at the same level, but in general, you can turn on a TV anywhere and there will be captioning available. Some countries are much further ahead,and this is simply because they may have been doing it for longer, or have more systems in place. In the UK, 70 channels are 80% captioned, and some of those are up to 100%.

There, it is not the Government that is funding captioning, but the Broadcaster. The legislation requires the Broadcaster is responsible for the accessibility, and the government does not give funding. One should also note that it is not only the Free to Air channels that are captioning, but also the commercial channels. As they should.

And don’t get me started on TV on Demand. The BBC has iPlayer and it is 100% captioned. They say that there are no technological barriers for providing on demand captioning. None. Which means TVNZ on Demand, Lightbox, Sky, and Ezyflix (to name a few) have absolutely no excuse.

A few weeks later, when I was back in the UK, I had an evening on my own in a Bristol hotel. I decided to look to see how many channels had captions. I sat on the bed and flicked. Flick – yes captioned. Flick – Yes captioned. Flick – Yes captioned. Flick – yes captioned. I think I went through the 25 channels that was available to me in the hotel, and there was not one programme on that wasn’t captioned. Just to make sure I flicked through them all again. And Again. And Again. I couldn’t even decide which programme to watch – the choice was unbelievable. I settled on BBC1’s wildlife programme in the end and learnt about the mating habits of birds. I learnt that there is a male bird in South America that has to learn a particular mating dance with another apprentice male bird. They practise for ten years, before the female even looks at them. The apprentice doesn’t get a look in unless the top bird dies.

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I marveled at what I learnt, information that has increased my knowledge of wildlife, making me hanker after a trip to South America with my camera that is shown here in NZ but not captioned. (SKY). I couldn’t help that Kiwi kids are missing out on a lot of educational programming. Not just the kiwi kids that are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, but those that have English as their second language, or those that are autistic. Research has proven that captioning helps these people, and improves literacy as well. More recently, research shows watching 1.5 hours of captioned TV per day, is the equivalence of reading 50 novels a year. I started a booklist a while ago, in the aim of trying to make reading a sport for me and there is no way I can read 50 books a year no matter how hard I try. Life gets in the way. But it goes without saying that if you read 50 books a year, the amount of knowledge you would gain, and the amount of insight into the English Language and all its idiosyncrasies would not be detrimental!

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I don’t know what time I stopped watching, but I woke up in the morning with the TV still on and the TV remote on my forehead. I guess I had a good night!

I’m now back in New Zealand. I’ve turned on TV a couple of times. Sure, there was some captioning on two channels, but nothing that I wanted to see. There were two programmes I did want to see – one on TV3 – not captioned, one on PRIME – not captioned. I’m not interested in watching a programme just because it has captions, I want to watch something I’m interested in, and one that holds my interest, educates me, informs me, and makes me passionate about life.

I don’t understand the stance the New Zealand Government has on not legislating. I don’t understand why they think that the little captioning we have is okay. I can’t understand why they don’t see that without legislation, nothing will change. If nothing changes, nothing will change. They quote that there has been an increase in captioning – but come on. An increase of 10 hours in 3.5 years is hardly an increase.

New Zealand prides itself on being ahead with technology. It takes pride to be a go ahead nation when we are just a dot in the Pacific Ocean. Yet we are 30 years behind UK and Europe in terms of accessibility on Television, and we are more aligned with countries like Egypt when it comes to captioning.

We should be ashamed.