TV captions should be readable, accurate and comprehensive

ACCAN welcomes new captioning standard announced by ACMA

Great news! The communications regulator, the ACMA, has released a new captioning standard designed to make television more accessible to people who are deaf or hearing impaired.

For those who don’t already know, captions are the text description that run along the bottom of your TV screen that describes the audio, sound effects and spoken word of a program.

The new standards require captions to be readable, accurate and comprehensive, with ACMA chairman Chris Chapman recognising the important role captioning plays in contributing to “social equity”.

The announcement follows a recent ABC breach of its captioning obligations during two programs, At the Movies and Gruen Planet.

ACCAN’s disability policy advisor Wayne Hawkins said the release of the standard was a win for consumers.

“This is significant progress and will hopefully address the many problems consumers face with the current quality of ‘live’ captions,” he said.

“While there are no measurable benchmarks – such as 98% accuracy or no more than 3-5 seconds lag between video and captions – captions meeting these standards will ensure better viewing for consumers.”

Free-to-air TV broadcasters are required to provide a captioning service on their main channel for programs transmitted between 6pm and 10:30pm (extending to midnight from July 1 2014) and news or current affairs programs transmitted outside those hours.

In addition, under the annual captioning targets for 2012-13, free-to-air commercial and national broadcasters are required to caption 90 per cent of programs between 6am and midnight, increasing to 95 per cent in 2013-14 and reaching 100 per cent from July 2014.

The ACMA has also released a series of videos containing captioning and Auslan translation to help ensure that caption users are aware of the new rules.

Consumers who have complaints about the quality of captions or lack of captions during a program broadcast on commercial or subscription TV can complain directly to the ACMA. Complaints about the ABC and SBS content must be made directly with the broadcaster in the first instance. However, while the ACMA is able to investigate and publicise breaches of the standards, it does not have the power to issue penalties for poor captioning.