ACMA posts captioning exemptions submissions

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Thursday, 7 March 2013 12:13pm

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has posted submissions it has received in response to preliminary caption exemption and target reduction orders granted to 10 television service providers, covering a total of 90 channels. Most of these are subscription TV services which are re-transmitting channels from other sources such as FOXTEL.

These exemption and target reduction orders relate to the new quotas for captioning on free-to-air and subscription television which were included in the Broadcasting Services Act in 2012. The ACMA has the power to grant the orders to television services if providing captions would cause them ‘unjustifiable hardship’. The closing date for applications covering 2013 onward was 27 December 2012, and the ACMA posted its reasons for making preliminary orders earlier this year. Once these were posted, individuals and organisations had 30 days to make submissions in response to them.

The services which have been granted preliminary exemption and target reduction orders are Eastern Australia Satellite Broadcasters (2 channels), Fetch TV (21 channels), Imparja Television (1 channel), Optus Mobile TV (5 channels), Setanta Sport (1 channel), Sky Racing (3 channels), Telstra Pay TV (37 channels) TransAct (16 channels), Sky Channel (3 channels) and ThoroughVisioN (1 channel).

In our submissions, Media Access Australia has made two main points:

  1. The ACMA has not defined the concept of ‘unjustifiable hardship’, which is the main reason given for most of the preliminary exemption and target reduction orders being granted. This contrasts with the approaches taken in the UK (where channels are exempt from access requirements if the costs would exceed 1% of their ‘relevant turnover’) and the US (where video programmers are not required to provide captions if this would cost them more that 2% of gross revenues). These rules are clear, objective and publicly available.
  2. Exemptions should not be granted for a period longer than a year. We believe the amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act were framed to bring about increases in captioning, and granting an exemption or target reduction order should be an exceptional circumstance. Captioning technology is constantly evolving, costs are coming down and the nature of television services also change. The legislated system allows for services to apply for exemptions each year, and we believe this is how it should operate. Many of the preliminary exemption and target reduction orders are for periods longer than a year, with some extending until 2017.

Other submissions make different points. Advocate Michael Lockrey argues that “a broadcasting licence is a privileged, commercial right and it comes with a strong obligation to provide access to their content at all times”. He notes that “it is uncertain from the information provided whether the broadcasters have even checked whether it's possible for the content licence holders and / or producers to provide a captioning solution at the source”.

In her submission, Joanne Beckwith writes, “It is time to make a stand and point out that it is the responsibility of any business to know and adhere to the charter of not only human rights but the disability and discrimination act. To claim financial hardship is just showing these applicants to be bad at budgeting, accounting and business modelling. Access is not an optional extra it is and should always be part of any proper budget both in time and money. It is insulting to have to justify access.”

All the preliminary orders and the submissions in response to them can be downloaded from the Exemption orders and Target reduction orders section of the ACMA website.

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