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This section should be treated as general advice only and is not to be regarded as legal advice covering discrimination or broadcasting law.

The most common media access complaints are around issues of caption quality and the lack of captions on particular programs. Both of these types of complaint are handled by the Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) which has regulatory control over television captioning matters. It does not handle complaints about audio description on television as there is no required service in Australia. The ACMA can also look at complaints about television codes of practice. These cover issues such captioning information in program guides or onscreen notifications.

Complaints about the lack of access services for other types of media, such as websites or cinema, can be directed to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). It handles complaints about disability discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act. Please note that the AHRC will not generally deal with complaints about television captioning as this is overseen by the ACMA.

Complaints about television captioning

There are three main types of complaints that viewers generally make about television captioning:

  1. That a program does not have captions.
  2. That captions provided are of substandard quality.
  3. That program guides and advertising does not include information that a program is captioned.

A program without captions

If a program does not have captions, it may be because the program is not required to have captions as it is exempt. Some of the common exemptions for free to air television are included. The rules for subscription television are more complex and can be found. If you believe that a program is supposed to be captioned but there are no captions shown, then it may be in breach of the regulations and you can complain about this.

Before you make a complaint, try to record all of the essential information (see below) as this will help you write your complaint and identify what the issue might be.

If your complaint is about a program on the ABC or SBS (including any multichannels such as ABC2 and SBS2) then you must complain to them first. ABC complaints can be lodged online as can SBS complaints. If you are not happy with the final determination of a complaint you can then refer the complaint to the ACMA.

If your complaint is about a program on commercial free-to-air television or a subscription channel, then you can complain directly to the ACMA.

Complaints about caption quality

If your complaint is about poor caption quality then the process is the same as for complaining about a lack of captions. Before you lodge a complaint it is always a good idea to check that you are not experiencing a reception issue that is affecting caption quality.

Other television complaints

For issues beyond a program not being captioned, or being captioned poorly, you should complain to the network first. This includes complaints about captioning information in program guides.

For free to air television including multichannels you can direct your complaint to Free TV Australia which will forward your complaint to the correct network. For subscription television you should direct your complaint to your subscription TV provider (eg Foxtel). If you are not happy with the final determination of a complaint you can then refer the complaint to the ACMA.

Essential information for a complaint

Inall complaints, there are some general points you should cover. You should clearly address who you are complaining against, what they have done which you believe to be wrong, and (if you know), why it is wrong.

For example, if you know a television program is meant to be captioned, but it is not, then you should at least note the following:

  • The name of the program (eg ‘The 6.00 pm News on X Channel’);
  • The time-slot it was broadcast during (eg ‘6.00 – 6.30 pm timeslot, Eastern Standard Time’);
  • The channel it was broadcast on
  • The precise issue (eg ‘the program was not shown with captions’, ‘the program had very few captions’, ‘the captions on the program had too many errors to be legible’);
  • The impact it had on you (eg ‘because there were no captions on the program, I could not understand what was happening’, or ‘because there were only intermittent captions, I could only understand parts of the program, and therefore I believe that I was discriminated against’); and
  • (If you know why) why the program was meant to be shown with captions (‘eg I know that news and current affairs programs must be captioned, but this one was not’).

If you are unsure about how to address an access issue you have, feel free to contact us.

Complaining to the ACMA

You can make a complaint to the ACMA online by downloading the complaints form (DOC 334 KB), filling it out and emailing it to the ACMA.

The ACMA’s complaints process

If the ACMA decides that your complaint is serious, it will consider the information which you have provided, and gather information themselves from as many sources as necessary, including the station which broadcast the material of concern to you.

When the ACMA has all the information it needs, it will assess your complaint against the rules. You will be notified of the outcome when the investigation is completed.

The ACMA publishes most investigation reports on its website and includes a summary in its monthly newsletter and Annual Report.  

The ACMA’s usual practice is to not use a complainant’s name in an investigation report.  You should, however, be aware that some details of the complaint may receive publicity, regardless of whether or not a breach is found.

Complaining to the Australian Human Rights Commission

The Australian Human Rights Commission handles issues of discrimination against people with disability, as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act Complaints about things other than television captioning should be directed to the Commission.

The Commission provides a guide to making complaints.

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