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Digital Economy Bill will require on-demand programmes to include subtitles

By Phil Wilkinson-Jones | Wednesday, February 1st 2017

Broadcasters will be legally obliged to provide subtitles for on-demand content after an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill was approved last night.

Ofcom regulations requiring programmes to include subtitles, audio description and signing currently only apply to traditional TV channels.

But now the regulator will be given new powers to compel on-demand broadcasters such as iPlayer and Netflix to do the same.

The inclusion of the amendment – passed yesterday in the House of Lords – is a victory for deaf charity Action on Hearing Loss, which has been campaigning for more on-demand subtitles since June 2015.

Its Subtitle It! campaign had highlighted the fact that 76% of on-demand programming was inaccessible to the UK’s 7.5m subtitle users, even though some of the programmes were subtitled when they were first broadcast.

Paul Breckell, the charity’s chief executive, said: “We are delighted that the House of Lords passed the Subtitle It! amendment to the Digital Economy Bill yesterday and welcome the government’s commitment to act on this.

“We now look forward to seeing access to subtitles across on-demand programmes enshrined in law.

“How, where and when we can watch TV has moved on at an incredible pace, but people with hearing loss have been left behind.

“We would like to thank our supporters and campaigners, as well as the parliamentarians who have engaged with us during this campaign, and we look forward to continuing to work directly with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the regulator for TV, Ofcom, and the broadcasting industry to ensure subtitles are available so that people with a hearing loss can enjoy catching up on their favourite TV shows just like their hearing peers.”

Digital minister Matt Hancock, who published the amendment, announced the news on Twitter and said people with disabilities shouldn’t have to put up with a second-class service.

Lilian Greenwood MP, who submitted a Private Members Bill backing the Subtitle It! campaign in 2015, also tweeted her delight at the news.

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