Caption reporting retained as communications amendment bill passes House of Reps

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Thursday, 26 February 2015 13:40pm

A bill to amend sections of the Broadcasting Services Act, including some sections relating to captioning, was passed in the House of Representatives last night. However, amendments to the original bill mean that broadcasters will have to continue reporting on captioning compliance, while a scheduled review of the captioning rules will go ahead.

Young girl watching TV. Image credit: Mr Jan, Flickr

The Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014 was introduced into Parliament last October. The changes to captioning provisions in it included an end to the requirement that free-to-air broadcasters provide an annual report on their compliance with the captioning rules to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), and the cancellation of a review of caption regulations which was scheduled for the end of 2015.

These amendments in particular were opposed by a number of organisations including Deaf Australia, the Deafness Forum of Australia, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) and Media Access Australia. There was also criticism of a lack of consultation with consumer groups by the Government before the bill was introduced.

The bill was referred to a Senate committee, which held hearings in January and issued its report in February. This recommended that all the amendments in the bill be passed with the exception of the cancelation of the scheduled caption regulation review. This would go ahead, but be postponed from the end of 2015 to the end of 2018.

The bill has now passed with amendments put forward by the Labor Party. These mean that the reporting requirements will be retained, while the review is now scheduled for the end of 2016.

“This is a sensible outcome achieved after much consultation and discussion about the practicalities of how captioning works at the coal face,” said Alex Varley, Chief Executive of Media Access Australia. “Consumers need confidence that the regulations are being policed and broadcasters need to know that everyone is sticking to the rules. The ACMA review scheduled for next year will allow some of the other issues to be discussed.”

The bill will now be passed to the Senate, which has its next scheduled sitting on 2 March.

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