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MIB directive on PwD-friendly programming leaves broadcasters sceptical

MIB says that access to TV programmes for many PwDs is denied due to lack of assistive technology

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MUMBAI: Though laudable, a new government directive on making all TV shows on all channels specially-abled people friendly has left the broadcasting industry sceptical as it would be difficult to implement the directive across all genres of programming 24x7.

A senior executive of a major TV company on condition of anonymity told Indiantelevision.com, “It’s impossible to execute this for the entire 24-hour programming cycle. This issue should be discussed with industry bodies like the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and others before the TV channels figure out what to do. Anyway, most channel screens are already so cluttered and doing what the government wants us to do will also increase the programming cost.”

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) issued a letter dated 7 February 2019 regarding the concerns raised by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DoEPwD) in the past. The concerns were raised for the formulation of Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) for achieving universal accessibility for persons with disabilities (PwDs) which had stressed that access to TV programmes for many persons with disabilities is denied due to lack of assistive technology.

The ministry requested all TV channels, News Broadcasters Association (NBA), Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and Association of Regional Television Broadcasters of India (ARTBI) to carry the same language captions and audio description along with the programmes and news reports by TV channels for accessing by differently abled people, vide advisory dated 13 June 2016.

Concurring with the above sentiment, another TV executive, while dubbing the directive "unimaginative", said with the TV channels presently grappling with a new tariff regime and squeezed bottomlines, implementing the diktat of the government will put additional financial pressure on industry players.

Another media executive of a regional news channel said, “Language captions are not that easy to place on a screen. You need expertise to reconstruct or translate it properly. For a news channel it is always live and to describe anything in a sign language you have to be very punctual. Manpower will also increase and lead to an increase in programming cost. The intention is very good; I’m in complete support of MIB. The implementation part is a bit difficult. The language caption will damage the look and feel of the channel.”

The advisory stated that the media has always been in the forefront of taking up important issues/causes including those for the welfare of the disadvantaged sections of the society and in the recent past, Republic Day Parade with commentary/Independence Day Ceremony was carried with sign language interpretation for the benefit of differently abled people.

MIB requested all the private satellite TV channels to carry TV programs with sign language interpretation for accessing by differently able people.

NBA and Indian Broadcasting Foundation could not be contacted for comments.

With an aim to make communications and TV services more accessible to people with disabilities (PWDs), the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had come out with a series of recommendations last year, including a confusing one suggesting that 50 per cent TV channels to be developed in PWD-friendly and accessible format over the next five years. TRAI suggested that manufacturers maintain accessibility standards for set top boxes (STBs), mobile phones and landlines. Box makers were given till 2020 to make or import at least one model in different variants in an accessible format.

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