Research & policy

ACMA given more discretion to investigate complaints

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The Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) is to be given greater discretion about whether to investigate complaints under the Broadcasting Services Act, including complaints related to television captioning. 

The change is one of the Federal Government’s ‘Repeal Day’ package of reforms to cut red tape which were announced yesterday. A spokesperson for the ACMA said, “This amendment will allow the ACMA to take no action on complaints that are, for example, misconceived, trivial, stale or inappropriately divert the ACMA’s resources and the resources of broadcasters.”


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ACMA releases community safeguards report

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The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released its report on the ‘Contemporary community safeguards inquiry’ it conducted last year, which explored matters that should be addressed in broadcasting industry codes of practice.

The report states that the aim of the inquiry was to ‘ensure that codes of practice are fit for purpose in a converging media environment’. Prior to the inquiry. the ACME had identified seven concepts including ‘access’ which are relevant to broadcasting codes of practice, and one of the questions asked in the issues paper was ‘Should the concept of “access” be relevantly included as a guiding core principle?’

In their submissions to the inquiry, Free TV, SBS and the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA) all argued that there was no longer any need for captioning matters to be included in broadcasting codes, as these were now covered by comprehensive legislative obligations.

In its submission, Media Access Australia argued that captioning provisions in codes of practice are still significant in reinforcing the important role that captions play in people’s lives. They also cover four essential areas which are not covered by the caption obligations found in the Broadcasting Services Act. These are:

  • Ensure that closed captioning is clearly indicated in program guides.
  • Exercise due care in broadcasting closed captioning, and monitor closed captioning transmissions.
  • Provide adequate advice to relevant viewers if scheduled closed captioning cannot be transmitted.
  • When broadcasting emergency, disaster or safety announcements, provide essential information visually wherever practicable.

The ACMA’s report concluded that ‘This is an example of where code provisions may be helpful in complementing legislative obligations for as long as the information is of value, does not duplicate existing provisions and allows for technological and other developments.’

The ACMA also stated that ‘At the outset, the inquiry was expected to culminate in specific guidelines for future codes of practice reviews. However, the ACMA has now decided to defer further work on the inquiry and to publish this report, so that the evidence it captures can immediately inform the broader conversation about the future of broadcasting regulation in Australia, as well as the industry code reviews due to be undertaken.’

The issues paper, submissions to the inquiry and the consolidated report can all be downloaded from the Contemporary community safeguards page on the ACMA’s website.


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European Union legislates for web accessibility

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The European Parliament has passed a law to improve the accessibility of information on government websites in European Union member countries. This will give millions of people enhanced access to vital information and services.

he draft law — which was approved by 593 votes to 40, with 13 abstentions — requires all European Union (EU) member countries to ensure that all websites managed by public sector bodies are fully accessible to elderly people and those with a disability.

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Free TV Australia requests an end to caption reporting requirements

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In a submission to the Department of Communications, Free TV Australia, the organisation which represents Australian free-to-air broadcasters, has requested that broadcasters no longer be required to report annually on compliance with caption quotas and caption quality standards.

In November 2013, the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, wrote to organisations within the communications sector asking for advice on where regulation could be streamlined or removed. The compliance reporting requirements that Free TV is objecting to were included in the Broadcasting Services Act as part of a package of amendments relating to captioning passed in June 2012.


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US regulator introduces new caption quality rules

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the USA voted unanimously on 20 February to approve new, comprehensive rules to ensure that closed captioning on TV is of the highest possible quality.

The new rules follow years of lobbying by Deaf and hearing impaired TV viewers and their advocates, including a July 2004 petition filed by several groups including Telecommunications for the Deaf “to establish additional enforcement mechanisms to better implement the captioning rules, and to establish captioning quality standards to ensure high quality and reliable closed captioning”. The petition resulted in 1,600 submissions to the FCC.


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ACMA makes no finding regarding Foxtel captioning complaint

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The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has made no finding in relation to a complaint made by a member of the public that an episode of Grand Designs Australia shown on Foxtel in June 2013 was only partially captioned.

Foxtel supplied the ACMA with a copy of the master recording of the program which showed that it was prepared with captions for broadcast, but did not have an “as transmitted” recording (which would have shown what the viewers saw). It had checked its records and there were no errors logged on the night of transmission, while no-one else complained about the lack of captions. Foxtel admitted that the lack of captions could have been caused by a technical fault that had remedied itself, but it was impossible to check this.


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ACMA seeks input from the public

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Australia’s media regulator, the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA), is seeking members of the public to apply to sit on its Consumer Consultative Forum. People from diverse backgrounds, including those with disability, are encouraged to apply.

The Forum is intended to help inform the ACMA of consumers’ interests relating to telecommunications and the internet.

The announcement from the ACMA states: “We’re looking for a diverse field of representatives to help raise a wide range of consumer issues.” People representing the following consumers are particularly encouraged to express their interest:


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Telstra Pay TV applies for caption exemptions

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Telstra Pay TV has applied to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for exemptions to caption requirements for its subscription service Mobile Foxtel, which delivers 34 Foxtel channels to mobile devices.

Amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act passed in 2012 introduced captioning requirements for subscription TV services. However, the ACMA has the power to grant exemption or target reduction orders to television services if providing captions for them would cause ‘unjustifiable hardship’.


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