Another in a series of postings on CBC captioning (also see the separate page on the topic)

Our dear friends at the CRTC issued a call for comments on a review of over-the-air broadcasting policy. (Did you understand that?) Apropos of nothing, the CRTC jammed in a few questions about captioning. After spending nearly 30 years doing everything in its power to deny viewers with disabilities full accessibility to the television system, suddenly the CRTC was proposing a 100%-captioning requirement – but all complaints would be outsourced to an industry group. How crazy is that?

Of course I submitted my own withering comments. To test the CRTC’s ability to handle standards-compliant documents, I submitted a file (not a Web page on a server) written in validated, well-formed XHTML 1.1 with correct MIME type and file extension. (It is perhaps one of the only such files in existence.) And what was the first thing I heard back? “We can not open your document.” I was then invited to resubmit in Word or PDF. I don’t think so. Maybe next time I’ll file a Braille printout.

The CRTC has nearly the worst Web site on the planet, and it is impossible to link to any submissions filed, all of which appear to be saved as Word, PDF, or indeed simple TIFF documents. Love that accessibility. CBC’s response, entitled “A New Framework for Canadian Television,” was submitted in tagged PDF, oddly enough, and contains all the bullshit we’ve come to expect.

CBC Television captions 100% of its overall programming

No, it does not, as I have proven and the CBC has not disputed.

CBC Television and Télévision de Radio-Canada recognise the vital importance of captioning their programs. They have made, and continue to make investments in new technologies and training to improve captioning to ensure that captions are of the highest quality.

And what training would that be? (Peggy Zulauf sits you down and tells you what she thinks?)

It must be acknowledged, however, that some circumstances still make it impossible to attain the ideal.

Like the following intentional and deliberate corporate policies?

  • We don’t caption subtitled shows.
  • We use scrollup captioning whenever we feel like it.
  • We recaption already-captioned programming.
  • We use real-time captioning on programming that isn’t live, and retain those captions unaltered for any and all repeats.

The Standing Committee on Cultural Heritage report, Our Cultural Sovereignty, published in June 2003 (“Lincoln Report”) identified these differences:

I identified them for the committee. They wouldn’t be in the report if I hadn’t provided “evidence” to that committee in 2002.

  • Difficulty with French captioning lies in the technology used, which is based on an English-language model. In the case of real-time captioning, the hardware must be remapped with French phonology to accommodate accents and other characteristics of the French language not present in the English language. Gender and number agreement also present problems.
  • Given that French generally contains more words per sentence than English, it is sometimes difficult for captioners to keep pace with the action onscreen in the case of real-time captioning.

Straight from the horse’s mouth.

However, there is no consensus between broadcasters and the hearing-impaired community as to a universally acceptable error rate or even what constitutes an error. In order to establish an “industry standard” it would be necessary to:

  • Develop a consensus on how errors should be calculated. For example, should it be the ratio of errors made in relation to total words spoken during a program, or in relation to the total number of closed-captioned words?
  • Assess the level of captioning performance by broadcasters across the system using those definitions.
  • Recognise [sic] that error rates cannot be the same for all types of programs, e.g., acceptable error rates would need to be higher for programs captioned in real-time, especially for those captioned in real-time French.

These steps would represent a considerable undertaking for both the Commission and the broadcasting industry.

I have a research project to do just that.

The industry has also made progress in improving the quality of captioning

False even from a cursory examination, and there aren’t any well-researched and tested standards to go by.

CBC/Radio-Canada handles complaints related to the quality and quantity of captioning internally and considers this to be the most effective way to manage this issue. We respond in a timely manner to complaints and use that process to help reduce or eliminate captioning problems.

What “CBC/Radio-Canada” actually does is ignore and belittle complainants, refuse to meet them, and attempt to derail the whole process.

Mandating a third party to essentially “regulate” the industry with respect to captioning is unnecessary and premature given that there are no effective measures of captioning quality and no consensus view on an appropriate standard error rate.

That’s because my research project hasn’t written the standards or developed a “consensus view.”

And isn’t it terribly interesting that the CBC submission never once mentions that it essentially lost a human-rights complaint and has to caption 100% of CBC Television and Newsworld programming? Isn’t that a rather germane point when discussing the topic of 100% captioning? Is it also a germane point that Radio-Canada had to settle a separate complaint?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.10.06 12:50. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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