The BBC should be embarrassed about the lack of subtitles on its News website

Posted on September 23, 2013



The number of programmes that the BBC subtitle across all their TV channels is very high. The statistics from regulator Ofcom show that they subtitled almost 100% of their television output last year and they deserve credit for that. Their on-demand service, iPlayer, is also leading the way. There are subtitles all over that too.

But there is still a problem for deaf people with the BBC and it is at the heart of their offering. It’s the complete failure of BBC’s News website to provide subtitles for their video news reports.

Nowhere else is the inequality of access to information for deaf people demonstrated so regularly, so blatantly and so disappointingly than on the BBC News website.

Put simply, almost nothing is subtitled. It’s embarrassing.

I’m ashamed that in the year 2013, this beacon for accessibility on TV and our beloved national broadcaster, lets deaf people down so badly. So regularly.

My son asked me the other day why a video story about Chelsea Football Club that we were watching had no subtitles. I couldn’t answer his question. I really couldn’t figure it out.

“Well, er, Son, you know it’s er, hard to subtitle short clips because they’re er … on the internet?” Tosh.

The fact is that most of the BBC on-line news clips come from news reports that will have been subtitled when they went out on TV.

Subtitles exist somewhere for that content but it’s not being used. The BBC already use video players that can support subtitles, like iPlayer, so that’s not an excuse either.

It’s not like the BBC don’t appreciate the problem. Last week, the BBC did a story about hearing loop systems on Breakfast TV, which went out with the normal TV subtitles. The video then went on-line without any subtitles. Following a complaint from one of our readers, they realised their error and fixed it.

But do the BBC really think that the only news videos deaf people want to watch, and therefore warrant accessibility, are about deaf issues? Deaf people have exactly the same right to know what is being said in every last one of their online videos, and they know it.

I have no doubt some Beeb tech-wizard would have a few excuses up his sleeve about why subtitles can’t be added to these news clips but really, we all know that the reason isn’t actually a technical one. The real reason is money and obviously the BBC don’t think you’re worth it because lets face it, they have enough money.

The BBC’s annual budget is £3.5 billion. Yes, it’s that much and this year, the BBC has come under fire for handing enormous pay-offs to failing executives and for pouring £100m into a failed IT project. So much money has been wasted but can they allocate a little bit to making on-line videos accessible to deaf people? Nope, not this year. Not last year and not for any of the previous 16 years the news website has been operational.

This problem doesn’t only apply to the news or sport sections. It’s exists across many other parts of the BBC’s vast website too.

I say its time that the BBC did something about this problem. Yes, I applaud them for their TV subtitling but this on-line issue must now be addressed.

I say the BBC should invest in a subtitling unit, specifically for the website, and then change their on-line video players to show those subtitles.

It’s time the leadership at the BBC no longer accepted this inequality; no longer accept the blatant and unnecessary barrier to news and information that exists for deaf people and did something proactive about it.

The BBC have had since 1997 – when they established their news website – to find a solution. They have had a super-sized budget every year and have wasted hundreds of millions. For all that time, deaf people dutifully paid the full licence fee, on pain of imprisonment, for content that they couldn’t access.

It is a situation that should stand no longer. The BBC have the technology; they have the money; they just don’t have the motivation and the time has come to give them some.

The time has come to complain. All of us. Today.

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor

Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events as well as working for a hearing loss charity. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP (all views expressed are his own).

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