Govt accused of dragging feet over TV audio descriptions

Trials in 2012 & 2016... and Minister now says he will write to networks over descriptors for blind Australians.

The government has been accused of dragging their feet over a lack of TV audio descriptions for blind and low vision Australians.

Minister for Communications & the Arts Mitch Fifield told a Senate Estimates Hearing yesterday he would write to broadcasters asking them how they can add audio descriptors to TV programmes.

But Australia is the only major English-speaking country yet to have audio description on TV.

Yesterday Senator Deborah O’Neill reminded Minister Fifield that Labor commissioned a trial in 2012, and the Liberals commissioned an iview trial in 2016.

“This is now your 6th year in office, as a government, and to date you have failed to get audio descriptions implemented for blind and low vision Australians” she noted.

Minister Fifield replied that there was no legislative impediment for broadcasters implementing audio descriptions and the government provided a working group to assist.

“It’s clear that that has not been taken up so I am going to be writing to the broadcasters, commercial and public, asking them how they can implement audio description, what level of coverage they think they would be able to achieve and how they might be able to bring this to pass.

“I should also add that I think the ABC and SBS should be leading by example in this area. The ABC Charter says that it’s their responsibility to provide services for all Australians and I would hope that the ABC and SBS can lead by example in this area.”

“Perhaps if you didn’t cut their funds it wouldn’t be such an issue?” Deborah O’Neill asked.

“The best you can tell me is you’re now going to write a letter. Is that really adequate for federal the minister for communications to have ignored this issue for blind and low vision Australians for this period of time?”

“Senator the issue hasn’t been ignored as indicated,” Fifield replied. “There is no impediment to broadcasters putting these services into place. We commissioned the working group to assist in that endeavour and I’ve indicated to you the next steps that I’ll be taking.”

In early 2015 Vision Australia lodged complaints with the Australian Human Rights Commission against Seven, Nine, TEN, SBS and Foxtel over a lack of audio descriptors.

The UK, US, Ireland, Germany, Spain and New Zealand already provide audio description on free to air or subscription television.

In 2016 Minister Fifield said on Q&A, “I’m very keen to look to see what we can do in terms of audio description. It’s important that people if they are blind or vision impaired to have access to media

In 2017 an ABC spokesperson told TV Tonight, “The final report on the government funded audio description iview trial was delivered to the Department of Communications in late 2016. Its publication is a matter for the Department.”

“This isn’t good enough,” opposition communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said yesterday.

“The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has been dragging its feet.”

3 Responses

  1. If the minister wants the ABC and SBS to lead the way, he could try increasing their budgets instead of slashing them.

    If you’re interested in finding out more about audio description, check out TV4All.com.au and their YouTube page youtube.com/channel/UC_p7dv6lDVC5WTDnRhBmZHg

  2. Senator Fifield instead of berating ABC on this issue might like to know that one ABC show, Get Krackin, has taken some great initiative in this area, seemingly not waiting for the industry or government to catch up. Hopefully it leads to other shows doing more to become more accessible. Their episode earlier tonight was excellent.

  3. Does anyone know the exact wording they are using, for the definition of a ‘descriptor’ ?
    You would think that with the number of repeat multichannels that networks could easily and voluntarily, care for the vision impaired, but maybe there is no ‘money’ in it.

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