Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 53

Memorandum submitted by RNID

INTRODUCTION

About RNID

  RNID is the largest charity representing the 8.7 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK. As a membership charity we aim to achieve a radically better quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing people. We are realising this vision through our campaigns, our services and our research.

KEY RESPONSE AND RECOMMENDATIONS

  RNID would like to see specific representation of the interests of deaf and hard of hearing people on the Consumer Panel. Consideration should also be given to at least one nominated person on the Content Board having responsibility for sensory impairment and other disability issues.

  Regular research needs to be undertaken by OFCOM and the Consumer Panel on issues relating to the quality of subtitling and signing provision. Research should also include aspects of technology, for example continuation of the "closed" signing project and the reduction of excessive background noises.

  The granting of exemptions for signing and especially subtitling should be very limited. All exceptions must be open to review on a regular basis.

  Every broadcaster should face a requirement to regularly publicise the existence of closed caption subtitles and inform people how to access them. Programme information such as Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs) should include reference to subtitling and signing.

  The current quality standards for subtitling and signing as set by ITC must be maintained.

  The end target for subtitling provision should be as close as possible to 100 per cent for most broadcasters.

  Cable and satellite broadcasters should face demanding interim targets, especially for subtitling provision.

  The Communications Bill must ensure that all future forms of television, which are "one to many", are covered by statutory regulations for signing and subtitling.

1.  THE PROPOSED STRUCTURE, FUNCTIONS, DUTIES AND POWERS OF OFCOM

Proposals relating to the Consumer Panel

  OFCOM will take over a huge range of responsibilities, including the remit of five regulatory regimes currently in operation in the communications sector. We believe the OFCOM Board itself should see as its first priority the need to directly serve consumer interests, however we recognise the inevitable tensions that will exist in such a wide ranging regulator and therefore welcome the existence of a Consumer Panel to help ensure consumers have a strong and authoritative voice on all future communications policy questions.

  RNID welcomes the special status of the Consumer Panel. We believe it should use its resources and high degree of independence to ensure deaf and hard of hearing people are effectively represented.

Recommendation

  RNID would like to see specific representation of the interests of deaf and hard of hearing people on the Consumer Panel. Consideration should also be given to at least one nominated person on the Content Board having responsibility for sensory impairment and other disability issues.

  RNID strongly supports the Consumer Panel having its own research resources. It is of vital importance that the Consumer Panel has significant resources as there are many types of research which have little immediate short term commercial gain for broadcasters, yet which have immense benefits for many deaf and hard of hearing people. In particular there is an ongoing need for research into the quality of subtitling provision, especially relating to the speed, presentation and the degree of editing.

Recommendation

  Regular research needs to be undertaken by OFCOM and the Consumer Panel on issues relating to the quality of subtitling and signing provision. Research should also include aspects of technology, for example continuation of the "closed" signing project and the reduction of excessive background noises

2.  THE PROPOSED STATUTORY FRAMEWORK FOR THE PROMOTION OF A DYNAMIC AND COMPETITIVE COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA MARKET IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

The wider interests of the consumer and the provider

  RNID welcomes the Government's view on subtitling and signing that "the public interest outweighs any potential impact on the industry" (Communications Bill, Draft Regulatory Impact Assessment page 13). We also recognise the commercial benefits for broadcasters of being accessible to the huge audience that is deaf or hard of hearing. As the Draft Regulatory Impact Assessment also states: "Cable and satellite broadcasters will be able to increase their audiences by attracting greater numbers of sensory impaired people to their channels" (page 49).

  There are an estimated one million people who use subtitles whenever possible, and in total five million people who use subtitles frequently. Moreover, many hearing people find benefits from subtitles. Indeed ITC estimate that eight million people use subtitling services provided by broadcasters each week. Yet, there remain many people who simply do not know about the existence of closed caption subtitles or how to access them. RNID research has revealed that there are potentially 1.7 million people (over 55 years of age with a hearing loss) who do not know how to access closed caption subtitles and that at least 570,000 would use subtitles if they knew how to access them. (Subtitling for deaf and hard of hearing people, RNID report, June 1999).

Recommendation

  Every broadcaster should face a requirement to regularly publicise subtitling provision and inform people how to access them. Programme information such as EPGs must include reference to subtitling and signing.

EXCLUDED SERVICES

  RNID would wish to see very few exemptions given to broadcasters in providing signing and especially subtitling. The future Code produced by OFCOM must set out very limited grounds why any channel is exempted from auxiliary services, especially subtitling provision. We totally endorse the recommendation of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in its Second Report on the Communications White Paper when it stated: "We consider that any decision by the new regulator to exempt providers from these targets should be transparent and based on clear criteria."

  Due to rapid developments in the broadcasting industry and the fact that many cable and satellite broadcasters are experiencing increasing audience shares we believe it is vital that any exemptions are considered merely temporary and as a rule are subject to review after a very short period of time. While it is noted that Clause 203 (6) refers to the cost of providing these services quite clearly the Regulatory Impact Assessment allies this to market share. If OFCOM are to take this as a guideline then extreme care must be taken to ensure fairness. We would also urge that consideration be given to factors other than just market share. By example, a pay for view channel may still be able to afford to provide auxiliary services (and especially subtitling) despite a very small market share. A small market share for a channel may justify less demanding interim targets, but it should rarely justify total exemption from the provision of auxiliary services and especially subtitling.

  The case for very few exemptions is further strengthened by the low cost of subtitling. On average an hour of television costs about £400 to subtitle. Such costs are not disputed by cable and satellite broadcasters, indeed the Satellite and Cable Broadcasters" Group stated in their response to the DCMS Review of Subtitling, Signing and Audio Description on Digital Terrestrial Television (September 2000) that the estimated costs of delivering subtitling was then £200 to £500 per hour. Furthermore as the Communication Bill's Draft Regulatory Impact Assessment highlights, the development of new forms of technology and growing competition will almost certainly push down the costs of subtitling provision.

Recommendation

  The granting of exemptions for signing and especially subtitling should be very limited. All exceptions must be open to review on a regular basis.

3.  THE PROPOSED STATUTORY FRAMEWORK FOR CONTENT REGULATION

  RNID welcomes the fact that the provision of subtitling and sign language provision is incorporated into the first tier of basic requirements that will be applied in a consistent manner across all television broadcasters. It is nonsensical that both cable and satellite broadcasters have been exempted from the obligations facing some broadcasters under the 1990 and 1996 Broadcasting Acts. We endorse the Government's reasoning for ensuring that cable and satellite broadcasters are brought within the regulatory framework: "Although many cable and satellite broadcasters already provide these services on a voluntary basis, the Government believes that without statutory requirements there is a risk that these services would not be provided on a consistent basis (Communications Bill, Draft Regulatory Impact Assessment, page 47)".

  In addition to increasing access and social inclusion we believe a "level playing field" in regulation is the most equitable form of regulation for broadcasters. As the Draft Communications Bill Regulatory Impact Assessment further states: "Therefore extension of the obligations to cable and satellite broadcasters will actually create a more level playing field, and more conditions to allow competition to flourish." (page 69).

  RNID welcomes the fact that OFCOM will have the responsibility to publish and maintain a code giving guidance on subtitling and sign language provision. It is vital that this code ensures that the current standards in subtitling and signing provision set out by the ITC are maintained. The consistent presentation of accurate, skilfully edited and well presented subtitles is of vital importance. While recognising that many detailed aspects of subtitling provision can only be defined in a code we look to assurances from the Government that any diminution in the quality of subtitles will not be accepted.

  RNID welcomes the power of OFCOM to set interim subtitling and signing targets. While recognising that the targets must be met within 10 years we believe it is vital that the interim targets are challenging and recognise the fact that many satellite and cable broadcasters are well established. In setting of targets it should also be noted that every cable and satellite provider will have had about three years (from the publication of the Communications White Paper in December 2000 which first set out the Government objective of auxiliary services being in the first tier of OFCOM's regulatory powers) to prepare for the provision of auxiliary services. We would also welcome DCMS continuing to encourage cable and satellite broadcasters to maximise their subtitling output before the advent of the regulatory requirements. We also look to the Joint Committee examining the progress made on voluntary subtitling provision as specific commitments were made to the Culture, Media and Sport by BSkyB in February 2001 (Second Report, Communications White Paper, page 107).

  RNID welcomes the Bill's subtitling targets of a minimum 90 per cent in every week for Channel 3 and Channel 4 and at least 80 per cent for every week for other services. However, we believe that the ultimate target should be much closer to 100 per cent. Indeed a target of 100 per cent subtitling has already been set by the BBC for all broadcast output by 2009. Subject to very limited exemptions RNID believes such a target should ultimately apply as an end target for all broadcasters.

Recommendations

  The current quality standards for subtitling as set by ITC must be maintained.

  The end target for subtitling provision should be as close as possible to 100 per cent for most broadcasters.

  Cable and satellite broadcasters should face demanding interim targets for auxiliary services, especially for subtitling provision.

5.  THE BALANCE IN THE PROPOSALS BETWEEN CLEAR STATUTORY PROVISION AND "FUTURE-PROOFING" IN THE LIGHT OF TECHNOLOGICAL, MARKET AND SOCIAL CHANGE.

  RNID wishes to see a clarification from the Government as to whether new formats of television provision will be expected to carry ancillary services. We recognise that the Draft Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to amend the definition of what is licensable due to technological change, however we believe it is vital for clarification as to whether this would specifically ensure that Video on Demand and other forms of receiving television programmes would be covered by the requirement to carry ancillary services. Due to developments in Internet Video Streaming and Video on Demand it is vital that the Government clarifies what is considered a "one to one" service and what is a "one to many" broadcast service.

Recommendation

  The Communications Bill must ensure that all future forms of television, which are "one to many", are covered by statutory regulations for signing and subtitling.

June 2002


 
previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 5 August 2002