These reply comments on the CRTC’s review of over-the-air television (Broadcasting Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 2006-5) are submitted by Joe Clark, Toronto, dated 2006.12.20. (Original comments.)
This intervention is permanently located at the address:
The CRTC demanded a length limit to each respondent’s reply comments – an absurdly overspecific “maximum 10 pages 12 points font” (¶12936). Twelve points of what font – Univers 45? HTML documents are not paginated and will produce varying pagecounts with different fonts and zoom settings. The CRTC may be working under the assumption that everyone uses Microsoft Word (an unpublished file format) and untagged PDF, neither of which is accessible or interoperable.
It is unrealistic to require a scant 20 pages of responses when original written comments merely on the captioning question run double that length, not to mention the 450,000 words of transcripts from the subsequent hearings. There’s some kind of error on nearly every page of testimony concerning captioning, and the CRTC makes it explicitly impossible to provide corrections beyond a pagecount its functionaries can easily flip through. In essence, intervenors have unlimited space to make specious arguments, which may then be rebutted solely within a “maximum 10 pages 12 points font.”
- The CRTC, along with its friends and sometime employers, the broadcasters, has a 30-year history of providing less-than-100% accessibility for viewers with disabilities.
- The CRTC and broadcasters have taken refuge in the excuse, among many others, that the Broadcasting Act requires accessibility only if “resources” are available. But settled complaints under human-rights law, which in any event trumps other legislation, have established that 100% captioning save for glitches is the actual legal standard. Undue hardship is almost impossible for a broadcaster to demonstrate.
- Everyone pretends that the only issues on the table are captioning (and not also audio description, for example), and within that, the only issues of note are presence or absence of captioning and accuracy of transcription.
- In fact, there are other questions on the table, including quality and true standardization. Independently-developed, researched, tested standards solve the quality problem. Certified practitioners using a researched and tested standard will produce fewer errors.
- Adopting a standard of five-nines or 99.999% reliability, already in use at HBO, solves the problem of mere caption availability.
- Broadcasters, the CRTC, and lobby groups aren’t independent experts and should participate in the development of independent researched and tested standards, but their history and their conflicts of interest mean they cannot run the show.
- The Open & Closed Project is eager to take on a task everyone else dismisses as too difficult (the independent researching and testing of accessibility standards), and the Project is already happening.
Caption monitoring is the problem, not a solution
In its oral hearings, Commissioners and some intervenors were all but obsessed with the issue of monitoring captioning. Caption-monitoring is the problem, not a solution.
- The CRTC is the entity with the legal authority to regulate broadcasting, including captioning. No one else has that legal authority.
- With no researched and tested standards in place, what are we monitoring? The mere presence or absence of captions? That’s a rather rudimentary issue. Broadcasters can monitor presence or absence of captioning on their own channels; in fact, it can be automated. What about captioning quality? Without researched and tested standards, how do we monitor that?
- Monitoring is post-facto. By the time you notice an absence of captioning or lousy captioning, it’s too late: The show is already airing, the captioning is already done. The horse has bolted from the stable. Caption monitoring is all about the past. You can monitor captioning all you want, but you can’t fix it. Monitoring is a statement of injury, not prevention of it.
- There’s too much programming to monitor. Tell me, who’s going to watch RDS 24/7 to monitor their captioning? Is that too easy an example? How about the weather channel? (The French weather channel?) Your televised provincial legislature? Will you watch every pay-per-view airing of popular movie? How about the entirety of the Movie Network, including the porn? We can all come up with licensed broadcasters in Canada that we wouldn’t be caught dead channel-surfing through, let alone watching nonstop.
- In round numbers, I have 200 channels on my digital box. Even if we imagine monitoring only the 18-hour broadcast day, that leaves 3,600 program hours a day to watch. If you assign people to four-hour shifts, some of which will start at 0600 hours, then how are we going to come up with 900 people a day to “monitor” captioning?
- And – again – monitor it against what standard? What if these people don’t have the literacy to actually catch a captioning error? What if you hire stone-deaf people and they miss every case of missing or incorrect captioning because they can’t hear the audio?
- Monitoring is a precursor to complaints. The complaint-driven system is a proven failure. As I have been explaining for years, people watch TV mostly to relax. Nobody is going to be in a big rush to get up off the couch and somehow figure out how to file a complaint, which will, in any event, be dismissed. Monitoring means complaints; complaints are what we have now, and they don’t work.
The question of quantity of captioning has been handled by the Vlug v. CBC decision: The standard is 100% save for glitches, which, again as I have been reminding everybody, can be modelled on the HBO policy of five-nines or 99.999% reliability. The question of quantity has been handled.
Nothing less than 100% captioning save for glitches satisfies the human-rights standard, which trumps anything the CRTC would like to permit its friends the broadcasters to get away with. Of course there will be individual cases of undue hardship, as with tiny third-language broadcasters, but let’s get real here: A broadcast licence is actually a licence to print money and broadcasters as a whole have all the money they need to make their broadcasting accessible.
Independently-developed, researched, tested standards are the only viable option
The quality question can be resolved only one way: Through the independent development and testing of researched standards – and not just for captioning, but for audio description and subtitling and dubbing, too. Again as I have been reminding people for years, the Open & Closed Project can and will carry out that research and do that testing. And it’s actually happening.
Nothing else has worked so far, or else we wouldn’t be having these hearings.
- Expecting broadcasters to write their own standards is a proven failure. They tried it and it didn’t work. Try it a second time and the result will be a second failure.
- French-language broadcasters don’t even want to do it; besides, Richard McNicholl testified (¶12815) that French-language broadcasters only ever met his organization because his organization came knocking at their doors.
- Broadcasters cannot be trusted to regulate themselves, because, even at this late date, they advocate something less than full accessibility (and have to be taken to human-rights tribunals to provide more).
- Broadcasters aren’t impartial and, like the CRTC, they aren’t experts in accessibility.
- Nor do broadcasters have the attention span to actually research and test standards.
- Nor are broadcasters interested in solving the whole problem; it’s always a case of providing piecemeal, half-baked fixes just for captioning, while ignoring audio description (which they misname), subtitling, and dubbing.
- Lobby groups like the CAD aren’t qualified to run their own accessibility-standardization projects. This is not a question of “fix up captioning and we can all go home”; we have to solve the whole problem. Lobby groups are not independent.
The Open & Closed Project has industry support
We have signed support letters from captioning and description providers, software makers, and broadcasters in four countries.
The Open & Closed Project has grassroots support
Over 150 people made voluntary financial contributions to underwrite fundraising for Open & Closed Project, and many more have provided moral support online.
The Open & Closed Project knows all the right researchers
Not only are we on a first-name basis with all the right researchers in the accessibility field, we have verbal cooperation agreements with several of them. Researcher loyalties are not easy to shift.
Media Access Canada is unwanted and unneeded
Beverley Milligan (née Ostafichuk) has undertaken a poorly-explained process of setting up a poorly-explained organization with poorly-explained goals. At root, she advocates that the CRTC give up its legally-mandated responsibility to regulate broadcasting in Canada in the specific field of captioning (or captioning and audio description; it’s not always clear which). Milligan’s organization would “monitor” selections from all programming in Canada and, by implication, decide when some unspecified standard has been breached and issue some kind of penalty.
Milligan proposes to install herself as Canada’s one and only accessibility cop, usurping not only independent researchers, viewers with disabilities, and broadcasters but the CRTC itself. Yet she never quite comes out and tells us she is proposing exactly that. Nor does she tell us who her backers are.
Purported “needs analysis”
In her written submission, Milligan claims to have undertaken a Needs Analysis (sic) “on behalf of the National Broadcast Reading Service.” I have her original E-mails and they never mention an institutional affiliation of any kind. Nor do they mention that Milligan formerly sat on the NBRS board of directors (2003 NBRS annual report; Web listings through early 2006). (Did she quit or was she fired?) Milligan is listed as chair of the NBRS marketing committee (2005–2006 annual report).
Milligan declares that “he results indicated a very strong need for the establishment” of some kind of ill-defined organization “specializing in Accessible Media.” At the CRTC hearing, she puffed up that claim considerably, stating (¶9274) that her plans were “substantiated in market research done over the last two quarters of fiscal 2006.” She claims not only that her organization already exists but that “it... has been in touch with over 450 stakeholder organization .” She has never listed those organizations, an easy gesture of accountability with no personal-privacy ramifications.
In oral testimony, she implies that “this body of thinking and research from over 450 stakeholders” (¶9288) supports her plans. In fact, Milligan’s own numbers show overwhelming indifference and opposition. By her own admission in an E-mail dated 2006.08.24, fully 97.9% of previous E-mail recipients refused to support her plan. That number consists of the 89.4% of recipients of Milligan’s initial message who did not respond plus 7.5% of respondents in opposition. Milligan’s claimed “very strong need” can be more accurately stated as “massive indifference and noticeable disagreement.”
In any event, Milligan proposes that 100% captioning should be obtained through sponsorships, a legally untenable notion that makes the established legal rights of people with disabilities subject to advertiser whim. (“We’ll accommodate your disability if we can get an advertiser to pay for it.”) Milligan admits that her own efforts to sell caption sponsorships were a failure – her previous company “lost all of its contracts” when broadcasters used caption sponsorships as “a profit opportunity.” Here Milligan admits that caption sponsorships do not actually increase captioning quality or quantity.
The idea that broadcasters would pay Milligan’s organization to rat them out when their captions crash for five minutes is ridiculous, but that really is what she proposes (she “believes the industry itself should fund... operations and monitoring initiates ”).
The fuzzy role of Milligan’s organization
In her testimony at the Commission’s hearing, Milligan could barely give straight answers to questions.
It’s never quite clear if Milligan will be content simply to act as judge, jury, and executioner for captioning (maybe also “descriptive video”) in Canada:
- “I would monitor right across the board, absolutely” (¶9317).
- She “could certainly become an independent adjudicator” (¶9301).
Does she also want to:
- Write standards for accessibility (¶9311)?
- Or use “existing CAB conditioning caption guidelines” (sic; ¶9283)?
- Or leave it up to “industry” (¶9366)?
- Or engage the Canadian Standards Association (¶9369)?
She does not explain how “measurement and accountability is the beginning of improved quality” (¶9288) while the research and testing of actual standards couldn’t be. She does, however, propose that “maybe what we want to do... is third-party it out to some independent research organization” (¶9359). I take this as an endorsement of the Open & Closed Project, since, true to Milligan’s word, we will remain independent, particularly of her.
What Milligan does not reveal
For reference, here are a few things Milligan isn’t telling us:
- Who her backers are. She’s a former board member of NBRS and now claims to have conducted research on their behalf, but who else is backing her? Did the NBRS board unanimously back her plans, or was there disagreement?
- Who her friends are. For developing previous captioning software and devising captioning sponsorships, Ostafichuk received an award from the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Ostafichuk’s company also bestowed an award on the CAB. How many of her friends are the broadcasters she intends to “adjudicate”?
- Who her opponents are. Most of the respondents she approached are indifferent to her plans and some are known to be opposed. She has not addressed either fact and pretends her proposal has widespread support.
- She already holds a CRTC licence. Milligan’s company owns a Category 2 licence for Response TV (“which... remain under the ultimate control of Beverley Milligan”). It is not clear if Milligan’s holding company has wound up business, though ResponseTV.CA’s Web site is down. If Milligan got her wish to “adjudicate” broadcasters in Canada, it would mean that one broadcast licensee were overseeing all the others. The CRTC might as well license Global to “adjudicate” captioning in Canada.
The CRTC’s obligations
The Commission has already attempted to offload its legal obligation to regulate broadcasting onto the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a proposition that met with near-total rejection. The CRTC may tempted again to delegate its authority – this time to a vapourware organization that almost nobody wants in the first place. In light of all the foregoing facts, this is a temptation to be resisted.
Response to written comments
Shorter Alliance Atlantis
The overt form of captioning is merely “style,” like lipstick on a cow. Broadcasters can do anything they want with “style” and viewers should have no recourse whatsoever.
Shorter CanWest Global and Corus
The document concisely entitled “Requested technical and operational information related to the provision of closed captioning by Canadian private broadcasters,” by Jon Medline and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, is a superficial and often inaccurate and off-topic treatment of the issues it claims to address.
- Emergency information: Medline acts as though data bridges were not in use every day to automatically displace captions to avoid covering emergency warning messages, particularly bottom-of-screen crawls. Install and use a data bridge and you solve most of the problem.
- Colour: Medline admits that colour captions are possible today (they have been since the first day Line 21 captioning went to air), but implies that using colour in analogue captions would affect translation to HDTV captions (they wouldn’t). He also implies that colour would impede “intelligibility,” which will be news to captioning viewers in places like the U.K. and Ireland and Australia, where the only monochrome TV captions are those imported from the U.S. and Canada. Having spent many tens of hours watching British and Australian captions, I can attest that colour is helpful in Australian pop-on captions and harmful in scrollup captions in both countries. U.K. pop-on captions are very hard to understand, as readers of this document can verify for themselves by watching Life on Mars on Showcase.
- HDTV captions: Medline pretty much declares that HDTV captioning has not been “mandated,” except of course that it has – by the FCC under the Television Decoder Circuitry Act. We buy the same equipment here in Canada. Any device that tunes high-definition television has to include caption decoding. His claim (p.4 ¶7) that the standard “is not currently supported by a large number of... manufacturers” is false. Support is legally required in U.S. equipment, which Canadians also use.
- Voice recognition: Medline never clearly states that the question he answers may have referred to speaker-independent voice recognition while his answer dealt mainly with speaker-dependent voice recognition. Those two concepts aren’t even mentioned except in contradiction – that the use of a respeaker is optional (p.7 ¶2) or mandatory (¶7). He wastes time listing awards a certain speaker-dependent voice-recognition implementation received.
CanWest Global and Corus
It will be of interest to media-watchers to note that the captioning sections of the submissions by CanWest Global and Corus are effectively identical, as though the two companies collaborated on wording before an unannounced merger or acquisition.
- 100% captioning: Global pretends that, due to a settlement reached with Henry Vlug after he filed a human-rights complaint, it captions 100% of programming on Global and CH “streams.” But “commercials and promotional broadcasts prepared by CanWest to advertise its programs” are excluded. “100%” means everything, not everything save for discrete blocks that add up to nearly 15 minutes per hour. The claim that promos are “difficult to caption” is refuted by the CBC case, where nearly all of them are captioned. Broadcasters have a workflow to bring a promo to air; captioning can be – and in the case of CBC, already is – part of that workflow. It ain’t rocket science and it’s already being done.
- Glitches: Global wastes two pages listing the backup equipment in use by its second-rate captioning vendor, as if to make the point that captioning is “unbelievably complex.” At a technical level, it isn’t. The ruling in Vlug v. CBC required 100% captioning save for “glitches.” I have elsewhere pointed out, and everyone involved in this proceeding has ignored, that HBO’s standard is five-nines or 99.999% reliability, a reasonable working definition of 100% captioning save for glitches.
- 90% < 100%: Global claims that 90% captioning “is sufficiently flexible.” 90% captioning permits a broadcaster to take an entire month off from captioning and meet the quota. Moreover, the current 90%-captioning requirement refers solely to the broadcast day, an ≈18-hour period. 90% captioning of three-quarters of the day is really 67% captioning. It is “flexible” only for broadcasters, who are in the 30-year habit of churning out one excuse after another why they “cannot” attain 100% captioning.
- “Resources”: Global wastes three pages debating the semantics of “resources” as found in the Broadcasting Act. Global had previously testified that it makes a profit on captioning. The resource question is moot for the Global “stream,” and is irrelevant anyway, as the human-rights standard is accommodation short of undue hardship. Vlug v. CBC and Vlug v. Global established – by ruling and by settlement, respectively – that 100% captioning does not constitute undue hardship for those broadcasters.
- Third-language captioning: The author really needs to buy the Unicode spec. He mentions “different alphabets associated with Arabic, German, Greek, Hebrew and Russian alphabets” (sic); perhaps he is unaware that German has always been written in Latin script (not “Latin or Roman alphabet”). Line 21 and HDTV work in Latin script only. The author mentions “availability/cost of third-language captioning equipment” as though it were relevant: The software doesn’t have to be localized in the language of captioning. He acts as though “he (un)availability of trained and available captionists” were an issue, apparently assuming that, since there aren’t many captioners working today, such captioners can never be trained in the future. (Essentially, third-language captioning should be deemed impossible forever because it is seldom done now.)
- Obsession with real-time and scrollup captioning: The entire Global submission acts as though real-time and scrollup captioning were pretty much all that is being discussed. This is at least consistent with Global’s corporate decision to use scrollup on everything it possibly can.
- The overt form of captioning must never be regulated: Captioning is a visible medium of communication, but the overt form of captioning is self-servingly dismissed as “style,” as though this were a question of looking passé for buying last season’s Prada handbag. “etailed presentation issues should not be considered an ‘error,’ ” we are told, effectively authorizing Global to use any kind of captioning it wants. They’re already using scrollup on everything they possibly can, presumably because scrollup captions cost $100 an hour while pop-on captions cost $100.01 – and they really have better things to do with that extra penny. Presumably Global would be keen on using real-time captioning, at $99.99 an hour, for everything, or shipping the lot offshore for $99.98 an hour, were such options available.
- The current system does not work: Global admits that Vlug’s human-rights complaint was a wake-up call and posits that captioning “style” should be above regulation. Despite this contradiction, Global states, presumably with a straight face, that “the current system works.” They mean it’s the cheapest possible system and cheapness aligns perfectly with their own corporate mindset. Global has provided no polling or test results to back up its contention that captioning viewers believe the current system works. It is viewers’ opinions that count.
Corus’s submission, while functionally identical to Global’s, has a few distinct malapropisms.
- Commercials: Corus pretends that “high levels of graphics and legal text and generally the nature of short-form, third-party video” should preclude Corus from captioning commercials. Commercials have been captioned continuously since at least 1980. Does Corus really think that commercials have been a captioning trouble spot for decades due to their “graphics and legal text”? (Is Corus unaware we have full-screen addressing?) What does the length of the video have to do with anything? Corus captions third-party TV shows; how is the source of the material relevant?
- Subtitled programming: Corus mentions unspecified “challenges” with captioning subtitled programming, as though it were a completely new concept. Canadian broadcasters persistently represent themselves as unable to understand how a subtitled program would also be captioned. You caption non-speech information and unsubtitled utterances and you add speaker identification.
- Captioning English and French is “difficult”: Corus provides the straight-up statement that “he ability to closecaption even our official languages – written in the Latin or Roman alphabet – has proved to be a difficult task.” While there is a lot to be gained from a researched and tested method of doing captioning, captioning is not per se “difficult.” Corus surely means captioning is an expense it doesn’t want to pay for. Otherwise why would Corus, like its possible future partner or owner Global, use scrollup for nearly everything?
French-language broadcasters are contemptuous of captioning, and no matter how hard they try, broadcasting executives never quite manage to hide that fact. TQS claims that only French-language broadcasters should set captioning standards. For this task and for the task of assessing errors, we should continue to wait. I’m sure that will work out about as well as it did for the English-language broadcasters they also mention. Broadcasters are not neutral or independent parties and are provably uninterested in writing and testing standards based on evidence and research, which is what we actually need.
CBC has the temerity to quote passages on captioning from the Lincoln report (Standing Committee on Canadian [not “Cultural”] Heritage, Our Cultural Sovereignty). Those passages were adapted almost verbatim from my evidence to that committee. This is a rather flagrant insult even by CBC standards.
CBC has a 100%-captioning requirement that I proved they were not meeting. I assembled three years of evidence, published it, and submitted it to the CBC and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. CBC’s lawyer could not disprove any of my evidence but imperiously dismissed three years of work as an “informal complaint.” Then CBC has the gall to quote back my own words as reasons not to provide the 100% captioning that is legally required.
CBC is obsessed with mere error rates – a typical preoccupation of captioning neophytes, who simply cannot get past the question of accuracy of transcription. Just to arrive at a way to calculate errors, CBC contends, would “represent a considerable undertaking for both the Commission and the broadcasting industry.” Those are the last people we need doing it. This “considerable undertaking” – actually the task of developing and testing standards – is what the Open & Closed Project wishes, with gusto, to take on and is our raison d’être. What CBC thinks is too onerous to do we hunger to do.
TVO, TFO, and Knowledge Network
- 90% captioning: TVO claims to have “attained its closed-captioning target of 90% and more during prime time.” That won’t suffice. We aren’t interested in captioning most of of a few hours per night. We want the whole network captioned. TVO fails to mention that it uses scrollup captioning on every single program it can, including British dramas and other fictional narrative programming. TVO also believes that live breaks in children’s programming shouldn’t be captioned, though it does not propose to eliminate the audio track on those live breaks to provide parity for hearing viewers. “Interstitials” can be and are being captioned by CBC and can be captioned on TVO.
- French-language captioning: TVO essentially admits it will just barely meet TFO’s 75%-captioning mandate by the end of the licence, and complains that finding decent captioners is difficult. While this is surely true, because there are no tested standards for captioning in Canada, it does not excuse TFO’s wall-to-wall use of scrollup captioning. TVO’s claim that “all domestically-acquired content is captioned” conveniently leaves out programming that TFO produces itself. I wonder if TVO management is even aware that Panorama on TFO used to have real-time captioning.
- Standards: TVO and Knowledge Network are to be commended for supporting the establishment of standards.
- 90% captioning: Alliance Atlantis, like its siblings in the broadcast sector, claims that 90% captioning of the broadcast day is a reasonable substitute for 100% of all programming. This will be news to HBO, with its goal of five-nines or 99.999% reliability.
- CAB “style guide”: Alliance claims it “adheres” to the failed Canadian Association of Broadcasters captioning “standard.” Yet it insists that “ level of flexibility is necessary to recognize the differences in captioning of different types of shows.” Alliance fails to mention that, as of 2006, Alliance decided to caption every single program in scrollup, never use italics, almost never identify speakers, run all utterances together without carriage returns after sentences, write all cardinal and ordinal numbers as numerals even if they begin a sentence, capitalize only some proper names (always “god” and “lord”), begin each program segment with a dot instead of a clearing pulse, and basically act as though the captioner’s job is to extrude text through a glorified typewriter all day. It is interesting to note that programs are captioned in el-cheapo scrollup but captioning sponsorships get “expensive” pop-on captions.
- “Style”: Alliance believes that “differences in style and decision-making on presentation do not equate to errors.” If Alliance is adhering to the CAB “standard,” where does “decision-making on presentation” come into play in the first place? Like other broadcasters, Alliance denigrates the actual appearance and behaviour of captions as trivial “style,” as though it were a choice to wear a low-cut dress to the office Christmas party.
By the way, Alliance’s vaunted “flexibility” in captioning leads it to recaption – using scrollup – programming that was already captioned. A case in point is Alien, a movie with three other sets of pop-up captions already in existence that Alliance dumbly recaptioned with extruded scrolling text when aired on IFC.
The Canadian Association of the Deaf merits praise for refraining, for once, from demanding that the government pay CAD to act as perpetual captioning overlords.
- “100%”: CAD claims that human-rights proceedings required “the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Newsworld channels caption all of their programming.” All save for glitches, yes. CAD claims that a separate settlement requires Global to “caption all of its programming,” which is inaccurate, as many forms of advertising are excluded. CAD mentions an agreement with CTV “involving 100% captioning of programming,” but does not say if it requires 100% captioning and does not tell us is excluded. (By observation, a lot must have been excluded.) Doesn’t CAD have the right to publicize certain details of the settlement?
- Subtitling: CAD disregards the impossibility of captioning in non-Latin scripts in Line 21 and essentially calls for “ubtitling or open captioning” of all third-language programming. CAD had previously demanded that “any programming in which the audio track in delivered in a third language must also deliver captioning in that third language.” Subtitling is a translation. Is CAD really calling for all third-language programming to be subtitled? Doesn’t CAD understand that subtitling isn’t captioning?
- Misuse of scrollup captions: CAD deserves strong commendation for calling for the elimination of scrollup captioning on fictional narrative programming.
- Leitmotifs: CAD offers, but does not really define, five leitmotifs for any captioning standard – accuracy, comprehensiveness, versatility, synchronization, and consistency. Consistency is what you get from a real standard and is somewhat at odds with versatility. Nonetheless, the list is a reasonable starting point even though I doubt we’d end up with as few as five touchstones in a finished and tested standard.
- “Digital technology”: CAD never quite gets a handle on what “digital technology” means. Analogue captioning is analogue captioning and the underlying technology isn’t going to change. Hence, if broadcasters are to be “encouraged, even compelled” to “adopt” digital captioning, it essentially means that HDTV programs must have native HDTV captions. Not only does no such programming have native HD captioning, we don’t know how to do it in the first place, as there are no tested standards available. And the fonts aren’t great, either.
- Emergency notices: CAD is among the many parties that needs to learn what data bridges are and how they can prevent captions from obscuring emergency warnings.
- “100% captioning is impossible”: Such is the baldfaced declaration from a company that doesn’t even attempt 90% captioning. 100% captioning save for glitches – that is, the HBO standard of five-nines or 99.999% captioning – demonstrably is possible. TVA specifically states that infomercials, third-language programming (mentioned twice, along with all “foreign reporting”), preschool programming, and subtitled shows are impossible to caption, an untruth readily disproved by simple observation of existing television. And adult programming shouldn’t even have to reach 90%, which will come as a surprise to anyone who has seen captioned porn on the Movie Network, Viewer’s Choice, or SexTV.
- Demand: TVA states that in-house departments and outside captioners cannot handle growing demand. This is presented as a reason to stop growth in its tracks instead of what it actually is, a reason to hire more staff and certify them according to tested standards.
- Standards: TVA claims that it does not “necessarily” control the captioning on outside productions. TVA also gripes about the prospect of having to include caption quality in contracts with producers. This wouldn’t be a problem with the universal adoption of independent tested standards.
Response to CRTC hearings
During a week of hearings, the CRTC could never quite get its act together to ask broadcasters their opinions about independently-developed accessibility standards that are based on evidence and research and are tested in the real world. The CRTC kept acting as though the Open & Closed Project didn’t exist and the previous system of broadcasters colluding in secret to write down their existing practices is the sort of thing that needs to happen again.
Industry agrees that common standards are necessary
Witnesses appearing at the hearing showed they were open to the development of standards. Commissioners’ loaded questions attempted to tilt the balance toward industry self-regulation, but not everybody took the bait. To quote only a few paragraphs (numbers as in original), starting with a question that was posed over and over again in different guises to many intervenors:
LE PRÉSIDENT: Un des problèmes qui est bien identifié, c’est que... Radio-Canada a sa propre politique de normalisation, et vos concurrents comme TVA et TQS ont les leurs, donc, il n’y a pas de règles communes de l’industrie pour avoir des normes universelles.... Il ne serait pas pertinent qu’il y ait un comité multipartite qui comprenne à la fois l’ensemble des télédiffuseurs... qui diffusent en langue française pour travailler et pour mettre en place des normes communes? [...] Est-ce qu’il n’y aurait pas possibilité d’avoir une activité commune qui permettrait, effectivement, de régler peut-être, une fois pour toutes, cette question de normalisation...? Ne croyez-vous pas qu’il y aurait place pour que tout le monde se réunisse sous le même parapluie pour organiser et essayer de revoir toute la normalisation parce que c’est dans le cadre d’une discussion qu’on avait sur la normalisation des règles de sous-titrage en français...?
M. LAFRANCE: Je peux vous dire qu’il y a déjà des discussions en cours. Dans ce domaine-là, on n’est pas concurrent, en tout cas. Il y a déjà, donc, des discussions en cours. Effectivement, tout le monde veut améliorer l’affaire.
M. GUÉRIN: Oui, nous sommes tout à fait d’accord que ce serait pertinent. Il y avait déjà eu des démarches préliminaires auprès de différents télédiffuseurs... Mais je pense qu’une fois que ce travail-là aura été fait et qu’il y aura un cahier de normes acceptées par l’industrie....
LE PRÉSIDENT: out le monde a son propre code.
M. TRÉPANIER: Oui. Évidemment, on est convaincu d’avoir le meilleur.
— Il vous reste à convaincre les autres.
— Oui. Voilà! Et vous allez probablement nous aider.
M. McNICOLL: Depuis deux ans, j’essaie de créer un comité, un genre de comité de consultation avec les télédiffuseurs pour qu’on puisse marcher main dans la main au développement des outils de sous-titrage en direct.... Alors, il serait important de faire vraiment un comité d’étude sur l’évaluation de la qualité du sous-titrage parce que 95% des plaintes que je reçois c’est basé juste sur la qualité du sous-titrage.
And the same question in English:
COMMISSIONER DUNCAN: The commission is aware that broadcasters use various captioning standards. Would it be possible for all the English broadcasters to work together on developing and implementing a universal captioning standard? And such a working group could also propose concrete solutions, hopefully with respect to other quality concerns such as errors and misspelled captions and technical problems. And if so, which organization in your view, should be responsible for coordinating such a working group? Which group or organization do you think would be best to make responsible or to take charge of such a project? You are open?
MR. BRACE: [...] I think that it’s entirely realistic that we do that and working with the captioning companies, quite frankly.
MS de WILDE: We are open. [...] Moi, je pense que ce serait une très bonne idée de s’associer avec des autres diffuseurs qui ont les mêmes problèmes. Donc, je vais apporter cette suggestion à mon équipe à Toronto.
COMMISSIONER CUGINI: You know that the CAB, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, has established closed captioning standards. Were you consulted during that process?
MR. ROOTS: Yes, I was involved in that. [...] We felt that what they came up with at that time was adequate; not completely satisfactory, but it was adequate. I have three problems with those guidelines as they stand now. [...] Those guidelines were actually voluntary.... There was no enforcement.... Some of the broadcasters weren’t involved – for example, CBC – which meant that those guidelines did not apply across the board. [...] It is my personal preference that I would like to see a third discussion – set of standards set up, and that would be a group to monitor the captioning, because there is absolutely no power behind it.
Other oral testimony
Check the original transcripts (days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and especially 7) for the paragraphs cited below.
- ¶171: Robert Rabinovitch needs to realize that “each broadcaster achiev these objectives in different ways and to a different extent” is antithetical to the establishment of tested and researched standards. He essentially authorizes every broadcaster, including his own, to do what they do now: Whatever they want.
- ¶¶372, 376: The Vlug v. CBC ruling did not exempt outside commercials, as is commonly believed. CBC executives come off as sounding somehow proud of the fact that they caption everything except outside commercials. First of all, they don’t caption 100% of that remainder, and second of all, they have to caption the outside commercials too. The Vlug decision required 100% captioning save for glitches. It did not require 100% save for commercials. CBC is in noncompliance with the ruling and has been since it took effect.
- ¶374: Advertisers may want to control “where they want the captioning positioned,” but this is the sort of thing to which the correct response is a firm no. Advertisers don’t get to make up as many captioning standards as they want.
- ¶377: If a commercial gets delivered “at the absolute last minute” without captions, it can’t go to air under the Vlug decision and under any régime of 100% captioning. A commercial delivered uncaptioned isn’t a “glitch,” it’s a knowing failure. (Cf. ¶¶2965, 3536.)
- ¶380: CBC wants us to believe that all the French stenocaptionists (all five of them?) go to bed spot on 11:00 and can’t be called upon to caption the late sportscast. Well, try paying them more, or telling them they’re fired unless they work the evening shift one night a week.
- ¶¶389–390, 3991, 12804–12807: It is rather galling, but not really surprising, that the CRTC and the CBC think they can just import captions from France with no problem. France uses PAL and teletext; we use NTSC and Line 21. Can anyone explain why this should be news to broadcasting executives and a broadcast regulator?
- ¶395: If Canada and France want to have un système unique, then adopt the same researched and tested standard, with a common file format. In other words, sign on to the Open & Closed Project.
- ¶1018: Quebecor acts as though it is impossible to caption a network’s own publicity spots. Funnily enough, CBC Television and Newsworld manage it. (Cf. ¶2966.) Perhaps Quebecor just doesn’t want to do it and isn’t honest enough to say so? (Or because they don’t want to pay for it [¶1019]? Being tight with your millions isn’t legally tenable, as the actual standard is accommodation short of undue hardship.)
- ¶1035: If it’s too early to set error rates for captioning, perhaps it isn’t too early to set and test actual standards that would reduce or eliminate errors.
- ¶1654: Global confuses length of submission with accuracy and relevance, both of which were scarce in its submission.
- ¶1657: 100% captioning save for glitches – that is, the HBO standard of five-nines or 99.999% captioning – is demonstrably achievable.
- ¶1660: Does Global really believe that the hundreds of captioned commercials it airs every year have a problem with “covering up legal language”? What do they think has been going on for the last 20 years – one commercial after another that obscures necessary onscreen graphics? If so, why did they wait till a politically expedient moment (a CRTC hearing) to bring it up?
- ¶1662: If “most of the programming” comes in already captioned, why does Global run captioning-sponsorship ads, especially on those programs?
- ¶1666: On what basis did Global decide on a 98% accuracy level and the definition of accuracy? Did it do any research and testing, or did nonexperts at Global and its second-rate captioning shop decide that two wrong words out of every hundred added up to a perfectly fine way to accommodate viewers with disabilities?
- ¶1668: How can a broadcaster “for the most part” follow a claimed “standard” like CAB’s? At what point does it fail to be an actual standard? (Do Global executives drive on the right-hand side of the road “for the most part”?)
- ¶1669: We’ve got better things to be talking about than three- vs. two-line scrollup captions. Why don’t we start with Global’s overuse of scrollup captioning?
- ¶2218: If CTV takes captioning seriously, why did it hire a vendor – with no phone-book listing or Web site – that miscaptions every show, every single one, in centred scrollup? What evidence can CTV tender that it did not shop on price?
- ¶2224: Why did CTV use the right-wing catchphrase “special-interest groups” to dismiss those who campaign for the full accommodation of viewers with disabilities? A complaint-driven system doesn’t work, but would CTV really prefer to receive complaints from every viewer with a disability in Canada, or just from a few “groups” and individuals?
- ¶2958: How can a broadcasting executive appear before the CRTC, with considerable advance warning that captioning was to be discussed, yet not know what percentage of his networks’ programming is captioned?
- ¶2976: The current complaint-driven system manifestly fails to work. It’s difficult to file a complaint, the show is long gone by that time, and we get nothing but platitudes from the networks and the CRTC (Cf. ¶12829). As an issuer of such platitudes, of course Quebecor wants the existing system to continue. Any other system, like one that is based on researched and tested standards, might cost an extra dime.
- ¶2979: What is the Réseau québécois des malentendants? Who’s their leader?
- ¶3543: If you trained your staff, based on available tested standards, wouldn’t it cease to be “a huge challenge” to caption local promos?
- ¶3968: Did TVO really wish to testify before the Commission that it finds foreign programming difficult to caption? (Evidently not: TVO uses scrollup almost exclusively.) What “technology base solution” is TVO waiting for in order to caption live programming? How about the stenocaptioning it already uses?
- ¶11667: Former senator Jean-Robert Gauthier’s human-rights complaint was hardly “successful.” It did not result in more real-time captioning and elicited a guarantee to hire only three more real-time writers.
- ¶11681: Spanish programs do have Spanish captions – in the U.S. Why isn’t anybody asking why we don’t see that captioning in Canada, or why Spanish-language programming aired in Canada isn’t captioned in any respect?
- ¶11691: Impossible. On-air graphics do not cover up captions; captions are locally generated in the TV set or receiver. They’re the final graphic element that overlays everything else. It is possible that adding a bug or a crawl could displace Line 21, thereby eliminating captions altogether, but this is seldom seen. He’s really trying to say that captions cover the graphics, which, for the umpteenth time, can be solved with a data bridge.
- ¶11694: “New digital captioning technology” has no bearing on full-screen placement of captions, which we can already do.
- ¶¶11698–11702: Real-time captions always lag behind dialogue. What does he expect?
- ¶11704: To ask a hearing person to watch TV with no sound is unrealistic. Hearing people are not deaf and shouldn’t pretend to be. And, as Jim Roots knows perfectly well, not every deaf person is stone deaf. Hearing people who watch captioning with no audio will miss important events, like completely-uncaptioned or miscaptioned dialogue and sound effects. It is a flagrantly unrealistic proposition. Rita Cugini (¶¶11731, 11765) should know better than to sign on to such a plan. Then again, she should have been watching captions for the entire time she worked in the broadcast sector and later, inevitably, became a CRTC commissioner. (She worked in broadcasting and now works for the CRTC, but only knows captioning from bars and health clubs?)
- ¶11721: Caption size on iPods and other handheld devices has already been knowledgeably discussed by an activity of the Open & Closed Project. Captions are not and don’t have to be too small.
- ¶12712: Which exact “privileged” status do CQDA and RQST seek in discussing French live captioning?
- ¶12737 inter alia: The French for “audio description” is description sonore, not audiovision. (Do users of that term even know what they are referring to?)
- ¶12738: I fail to see how CRIM is qualified to study audio description.
- At ¶12748, have we not been given a citation of an existing standard by which to measure inaccuracy of transcription – the NIST specification that was mentioned? (It would help to have the actual reference number.)
- ¶12761: Nobody is seriously talking about using voice recognition to caption tone languages – yet. We cannot caption in Chinese script in Line 21 or on HDTV. (Chinese-language newscasts are captioned in Singapore.)
- ¶12788: We won’t have a research and tested standard in place by 2008.09.01; the proposed deadline is too early.
- ¶12795: Everyone seems to forget that there are at least two existing technologies for French stenotypy. There isn’t just one.
- ¶¶12828, 12835: A monitoring committee would be a recapitulation of the problem, not a solution. Standards are the solution.
- ¶¶12832–12833: Again, onscreen type cannot block captioning, which sits on top of everything else. I’ve watched the Radio-Canada newscast and seen no caption blockage at all.
- ¶12841: CRIM presents itself as a research organization, which it surely is. But another document from CRIM envisaged spinning off a business to provide live captioning. Some offshoot of CRIM is proposed as an actual captioner. An honest and fulsome explanation of CRIM’s plans would throw light on the divide between research and business.
- ¶12863: We don’t need an entire research program to train software to detect pauses in dialogue that could then be used for audio description. It already exists in software (like Adept by Softel) and is a trivial achievement. Description doesn’t always occur during pauses in dialogue; besides, the recording process is where the bulk of the effort lies. I know; I’ve sat in on audio-description recording sessions.
- ¶12883: The question of source of programs has little or no bearing on captioning. The program comes in, you caption it. It doesn’t matter where it comes from.