Deaf News: Subtitles bill tabled and MP support grows but debate unlikely

Posted on June 25, 2015

Yesterday. Labour MP Lilian Greenwood submited a new Private Members Bill to the House of Commons, backing a national campaign by Action on Hearing Loss to ensure the millions of people who rely on subtitles can equally access on demand television and film through new media services.

The Communications Act 2003 amendment, which seeks to introduce regulations for subtitles, audio description and signing on video-on-demand services, is being welcomed by the charity, which launched its Subtitle It! campaign earlier this month (2 June) calling for an end to the digital exclusion of the 7.5 million people in the UK reliant on subtitles.

Access to TV programmes for people with hearing loss has vastly improved in recent years, however more than 80% of ‘on demand’ providers don’t offer any subtitles for on demand content, with the figures for service leader Sky On Demand sitting at less than 4% of its content, even if the programmes were subtitled when they were originally broadcast.

Greenwood was given the opportunity to submit a Bill after being drawn 12th in an annual ballot which allows backbench MPs from all parties the chance to table legislation. Only the first seven are expected to have time to be debated but 11 more MP’s have now supported Greenwood’s Bill including Lib Dem leadership hopeful Norman Lamb MP which is likely to raise the profile of the campaign.

Greenwood is a supporter of the Ear Foundation, a charity focused on cochlear implant users, which is based in her constituency.

Lilian Greenwood MP said:

“Most of us are watching more programmes than ever on demand, but thousands of people are completely excluded from many of these services. There is a compelling case for updating the law and I know just how much it would mean for people with hearing loss. This measure has broad cross party support and I would urge the Government to make the most of this opportunity for change.”

Paul Breckell, Chief Executive at charity Action on Hearing Loss, said:

“As technology changes, so does the way in which we watch our favourite shows and people with hearing loss have had enough of being left behind. Legislation played a vital role in making traditional television accessible to the 10 million people in the UK with hearing loss, but it didn’t foresee the amazing development and growth in on-demand content, leaving just a fraction of it subtitled.

“We’re delighted that Lilian Greenwood has chosen to use the opportunity of being drawn in the Private Members Bill ballot to get behind our Subtitle it! campaign and to help ensure that people with hearing loss are no longer subjected to digital exclusion.”

Over 3,000 people have already signed Action on Hearing Loss’ petition, calling on the Government to deliver on its promise to review legislation for subtitles, audio description and signing on video-on-demand services in 2016, a call which is being backed by charities RNIB and Sense. To find out more about the Subtitle It campaign please visit

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor

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