OPINION: The CRTC listened, but Shaw didn’t

by Beverly Milligan 
Sep 30, 2010 

LAST WEEK, FIVE NATIONAL organizations representing millions of Canadians with disabilities asked the CRTC in Calgary for an enduring legacy that would make Canada’s television broadcasting system completely accessible. 

The organizations asked for an initiative that would use quantitative research, education, business modeling and technical standards to improve closed
captioning quality, reduce described video costs, and to enable all broadcasters to do more with less. Shaw proposed instead in its final benefits package to spend $3 million over seven years on accessibility. 

While some might be tempted by a $3 million offer, neither its size nor its scope will address the underlying reasons that 100% accessible broadcast content does not exist today.

Let’s look more closely at this offer. First, it would only apply to describe Shaw’s own ‘national-interest’ programs. Since such programs already receive financial assistance from the Canadian Media Fund to support the costs of closed captioning and described video, it’s not clear
just what the $3 million would achieve. 

Second, although Shaw attached no hours to its offer, if it doubled the current requirement of four hours of described video per week, described programming on the Canwest stations would increase to eight hours/week for the next seven years. This represents an average annual 8% increase in described video program hours from now until 2017. At that rate, the Canwest stations will achieve a 100% accessible day in 30 years.

Should Canadians with disabilities have to wait until 2040 for fully accessible TV programming when low-cost, reasonable and business-oriented opportunities exist to cut that time by half or more? 

A third issue is that Shaw’s proposal to add several hours per week of described video does nothing to address the equally serious problems of accessibility quality. For instance, gibberish and unexpected gaps from commercial interruptions now plague closed captioned programs. Some say that Canadians with disabilities should just complain when captioning quality is poor. 

Since the Broadcasting Act makes broadcasters responsible for ensuring their programming is of ‘high standard’, transferring the responsibility for the
quality of accessibility from broadcasters to Canadians with disabilities, their families and/or their friends is unreasonable. Let’s not forget that complaints about closed captioning quality for the past thirty years have had little impact, primarily because even existing standards are not being met. 

Every major organization and association that advocate on behalf of Canadians with disabilities – including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind,
the Canadian Hard of Hearing Society, Association for the Equality of Blind Canadians and the Canadian Hearing Society – supported the recommendations Media Access Canada submitted to the CRTC to ensure that the benefits of Shaw’s purchase of Canwest yield an enduring legacy for all Canadians. 

The organizations that came to Calgary to answer the CRTC panel’s questions were honoured to represent the millions of Canadians with hearing and visual impairments, and welcomed Chairman von Finckenstein’s response to their appearance. “I especially thank you for identifying and prioritizing your 10 points because I am sure Shaw, if not in the room, is listening and is in the process of writing up their benefit package. I hope they take this into consideration,” he said. 

Shaw ignored both the CRTC chairman and Canadians with disabilities. It offered $3 million to add a few hours of described video per week for millions
of visually impaired Canadians. 

The company has also committed to spend $38 million to ensure that up to half a million Canadians who will lose over-the-air TV service in the digital
transition can retain that service. The difference is that millions of Canadians with disabilities have not lost access to the broadcasting system: they
have never had it. Benefits from the Shaw transaction can achieve both worthy objectives for the CRTC and Canadians. 

With the support of every major accessibility organization in Canada, Media Access Canada will be calling on the CRTC to permit it to implement the 10
accessibility recommendations through conditions of licence in this transaction. Adopting these recommendations will ensure that all Canadians can be informed, enlightened and entertained by Canada’s television broadcasting system, as Parliament’s broadcasting policy has always intended: a true legacy that would benefit all.

Reproduced from www.cartt.ca