Regulators

TV channels cite logistical challenges in broadcast for the disabled

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NEW DELHI: A debate on broadcasting for persons with disabilities (PWDs) has thrown up more questions than solutions. TV channels have stated that though desirable, the process is expensive and challenging, for instance, in case of live events and that before setting guidelines for private broadcasters, pubcaster Doordarshan should lead by setting an example.

Pointing out that content to be made accessible to PWDs is viewed by the masses as well, which itself increases backend work, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) has said in a country such as India, where varied languages, dialects and language-scripts prevail, broadcasting for specially abled people is challenging.

“There should be synergies between capacity building for equipment manufacturers, distributors/re-distributors (DPOs) as well as broadcasters who are working with the Ministry [of Information and Broadcasting] for framing the Accessibility Standards for TV channels and the entire end-to-end chain of broadcasting should be coordinated, including amongst distributors and consumer premise equipment providers,” it added.

IBF, an industry organisation comprising TV channels, was articulating its views on a consultation paper floated by the TRAI on making broadcast and ICT services accessible to persons with disabilities.

If the IBF stated more co-ordination was needed amongst various stakeholders in the broadcasting value chain, another industry body representing news TV channels, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), highlighted: “Though desirable, the effort required to make broadcasting and ICT accessible to PWDs is a major and expensive exercise.”

What are the challenges in making broadcasts suitable for PWDs? There are several financial, technical and logistical challenges, including closed captioning, which is critical for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, or those who may have a disability that requires audio description. Wikipedia clarifies the term `closed’ indicates that the captions are not visible until activated by the viewer, usually via the remote control or menu option. Many Hollywood and European films providing subtitles sometimes have closed captioning, too.

“News content presents special challenges to provide subtitling, especially in multiple languages. Most news items are cut live or within minutes of an event and there is no time to redo the content in multiple languages or provide subtitles,” the IBF has pointed out adding that TV screens in most news channels are “clogged with scrolls and headlines” leaving little space for additional closed captions to be run.

However, it was conceded by the IBF that an effort to provide closed captioning can be made in repeat news bulletins, which, again, will carry a heavy financial burden as old clips also need to be captioned apart from news.

According to the NBA, a universal categorisation is an impediment to finding a solution to the problem of accessibility for PWDs as broadcasting and ICT services include inadequate “distribution equipment and consumer premise equipment,” including remote-control systems that have voice recognition and a touch­-screen.

The two industry organsiations, representing a wide spectrum of TV channels in India, have not only exhorted the regulator to advise the government to provide financial incentives before launching such guidelines, but have also suggested identifying certain percentage limits (50 per cent in one case) in the category or genre of TV channels that could possibly make broadcasts more accessible to PWDs.

“We request that the consultation on issues relating to distribution/re-distribution of broadcast signals and related equipment and technical aspects be suspended till the time Accessibility Standards for Television Channels are issued by the Ministry,” the IBF has submitted, adding DD must “take the lead” in providing access solutions such as visual captioning to PWDs and demonstrate their applicability for private broadcasters to develop appropriate programming and technology to meet threshold requirements.

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