Broadcasters are giving their own interpretation on the rules surrounding Access Services, giving Julian Clover a late night shock.
The Christmas television schedules are curious things. In the early hours of the morning I tumbled across an ITV1 screening of Queen of the Damned, a film notable for the death of its star Aaliyah before it was released, not particularly good acting, and in this case in-vision signing. At so many levels the hard of hearing deserved better in what must have been the ultimate minority broadcast.
UK broadcasters are obliged by Ofcom to carry a certain amount of Access Services, but the rules are only for terrestrial broadcasters, of which ITV is obviously one. Subtitles are easily achieved, and the same goes for audio description, but the problem with signing is that it is bandwidth heavy. Curious as well to see a guy in a tank top pop up as the villain is about to dispense their victim.
Those broadcasters who have DTT as well as DTH and cable services typically run a separate feed for their signing so that it is only available on the terrestrial service. BBC News 24 runs signing at breakfast and one o’clock when viewers that don’t need the service are in all probability watching the same bulletin on BBC One. Sky News puts its regular signing behind the Red Button.
The BBC collates some of its top programmes together to transmit overnight in a dedicated strand and the other broadcasters, including the children’s and strands on Five and Channel 4, often broadcast their signing on Sunday mornings. Incidentally my late night horror was on satellite rather than DTT.
During the last year Ofcom has consulted on the issue of signing both with stakeholders and groups representing the 66,000 people that understand UK sign language. One of the proposals was to place all of the signing onto a separate channel, possibly The Community Channel, but there were concerns about the funding for such a venture.
Instead, Ofcom is introducing new rules that will come into play on January 1, 2009. This will exempt channels with an audience share of between 0.05% and 1% from meeting the obligations Ofcom has set out in its Code on Television Access Services.
According to Ofcom the law “currently requires “after ten years, 5% of the time on a TV channel must have sign language. But it is up to the people in charge of the TV channel to decide whether signed programmes should be sign-presented or sign-interpreted.”
Significantly the public service channels, including ITV, will be excluded from this and will be required “to transmit a minimum of 30 minutes of sign-presented programming each month between 7am and 11pm. This amount will be kept under review.”
Ofcom is taking a flexible approach to the rules, and rightly so, enabling it to require a channel with an audience share of slightly less than 1% to add sign interpretation or a film service with just above the threshold to withdraw it.