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Petition urges government to set progress targets for TV subtitles

Friday, June 5th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Deaf and blind campaigners are calling on Ed Vaizey to give the TV industry subtitle and audio description targets for on demand content.

Nearly 2,000 people have signed an online petition to Mr Vaizey urging him to take action to stop people with sensory loss being excluded.

Organisers of the Subtitle It! campaign want the newly re-elected digital minister to honour his commitment to take action over the provision of accessibility services for on demand content.

“New digital technologies have transformed the way people live, but I’m concerned that people with sensory loss are being left behind due to the lack of subtitles and audio description for 'on demand’ content, when streaming films or watching catch up TV,” the petition says.

It said the latest report from the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) found that more than 80% of on demand providers – including BT and Virgin – don’t offer any subtitles.

Sky, the UK's biggest TV subscription service, offers subtitles on only 4% of its on demand content and audio description on just 1%, according to the petition.

Deaf charity Action on Hearing Loss said the government has promised to review legislation for subtitles for on demand services in July next year, but campaigners want to make sure the issue is “at the top” of Mr Vaizey’s ‘to do’ list.

The petition says: “In July 2013 your department promised to review legislation on subtitles and audio-description for on demand content in three years’ time, if progress isn’t being made.

'Take action now'

“However, I’m deeply concerned that, with a year to go, the department has not yet indicated to broadcasters the level of progress it expects to see when it reviews this area.

“I call on you to take action now by announcing progress measures so that the TV industry knows the targets it needs to meet. Should broadcasters fail to meet these targets then it is vital that you bring forward legislation.”

It said Action on Hearing Loss, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Sense have jointly produced progress measures, which they are urging Mr Vaizey to adopt.

In December, Cable.co.uk reported that ATVOD’s Provision of Access Services 2014 report determined that more subtitled programmes than ever were being provided via video on demand services, but the industry must continue to improve.

As the report was published, ATVOD chair Ruth Evans said although progress had been made, there remained “much to be done”.

Ms Evans called on commercial services such as Sky, which she said offered "relatively few accessible programmes" to expand provision to a greater proportion of on demand services.

And last month, leading deaf charities welcomed the news that TV broadcasters must increase the amount of sign-presented programming on their channels.

The responses come after telecoms regulator Ofcom revealed that the number of minutes of sign-presented programmes that must be shown on TV is rising from 30 to 75 minutes per month.

Broadcasters have the option of producing their own sign-presented content, or contributing to the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust (BSLBT) to reach their targets.

The BSLBT produces original programmes in which communication is in sign language, rather than providing sign-presentation for programmes made for hearing audiences.

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