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

The title of today’s posting harkens back to the early 1990s, a time when I had long since been online and you probably hadn’t. My Da Vinci’s Inquest of the era – the show I lived for – was of course Homicide, and I very much enjoyed the Usenet newsgroup discussing it. We were a really sharp lot, with no problems at all.

Except of course for the fact that the captioning on Homicide, by NCI, was atrocious. I kept complaining about it, mostly for posterity. (I knew these things would be archived forever, and lo has it come to pass.) One of my complaints had a tour de force of a subject line, if I do say so myself: “Homicide captioning atrocity update.”

That was ten years ago. Has anybody learned anything since?

Well, not on the sixth floor of Fort Dork. I continue to maintain notes about absent or incorrect or inadequate captioning on CBC Television and Newsworld. Both networks have a legal requirement to caption every second of the broadcast day save for glitches. But they aren’t. And, true to CBC nature, they’ve been total rat bastards about the whole thing.

To be fair, CBC are rat bastards only half the time. The flip side of CBC’s nature is flinching. They flinch whenever a right-wing arsehole complains about media bias – at best a matter of opinion. But when I document an open-and-shut case of zero captions on a program, my research is dismissed as an “informal complaint.” And remember, I spent three years documenting these problems, then published the data. That publication was itself more than a year ago.

The problem for CBC is that I haven’t given up or discontinued anything, including proceedings with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. But neither has CBC given up or discontinued any problem I identified. Everything that was going wrong four years ago is still going wrong now. And I can prove it.

  1. Missing captions: There just aren’t any captions some of the time.

  2. Use of real-time captions on programming that provably isn’t live: Just as an example, in advance of this year’s Grey Cup, CBC ran “classic” Grey Cup games – from the 1960s through the 1980s – on the overnight shift. How were they captioned? By stenography, as if the game were happening exactly at that moment.

    Black-and-white football game with two lines of captioning at top reading THEY HAVE BEEN TELLING US ABOUT WHAT A HOT RUNNER T

    Listen, isn’t 40 years enough time to caption a football game?

    And it gets worse, as live events that are rerun (like CBC Sports Saturday) retain the same shitty real-time captions as on the original broadcast. (That show is a trouble spot, as it is almost impossible to caption well in real time. The abundant proper names and terminology from obscure amateur sports are never in stenocaptioner dictionaries, nor should they be.)

  3. No captions on subtitled movies: Subtitling is not sufficient for a deaf person to understand a movie. CBC has gone from about 20% captioning to about 35% in this domain. The requirement is 100%.

  4. Misuse of scrollup captioning: Not quite the ultimate in cheapness (overuse of real-time captioning trumps it), using scrollup captioning for fictional narrative programs makes the programs impossible to follow. (You try it. If you don’t believe me, I’ve got tapes of the exact same program with scrollup and pop-on captions I can show you.)

  5. Uncaptioned commercials: Even I initially misread the legal requirement as applying only to internal promos and bumpers. But no: Outside commercials also must be captioned, and not all of them are.

Then there are a few persistent problems of implementation – like poor caption encoding (often from outside captioning houses) and colonial bullshit like British spelling and single quotation marks (still sometimes used).

Nothing has gotten better.

Stursberg and Rabinovitch are labouring to get us to buy the idea that they actually care about the broadcaster they run. Even if true, they’re being undone by their subordinates, who are the kind of people who pay lawyers to belittle and dismiss an outside expert rather than putting the same money into more and better captioning. This is something that could be a win-win if a few people woke up in the morning and decided to take a day off from being rat bastards.

And our friend Nugget, the captioner with a blog? He’s still trying to find a better job. In fact, he’s so desperate to get out he’s applying to grad school. Maybe that tells you something.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.12.05 15:26. 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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