This intervention is permanently located at the address:
An inveterate industry insider and schmoozer with a history of failed captioning projects is attempting to induce a reputed client, the federal broadcast regulator, to shake down a private company for de facto lifetime funding for her pet project.
Media Access Canada “acting president and CEO” Beverly Ostafichuk Milligan has a decades-long history of logrolling and insider deals with the same broadcasters who are the cause of the accessibility problem.
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 . Media Access Canada is now offering its own set of awards, named after Josef Frenken – an excellent way to ingratiate one’s organization with award recipients and the industry in general.
Accessibility requires independent outside development, not sweetheart deals with an industry schmoozer.
In the 1990s, Beverly Ostafichuk Milligan peddled captioning software, optimistically named VoiceWriter, that didn’t work and had to be abandoned.
Milligan takes credit for inventing so-called caption sponsorships – advertisements making fraudulent claims about who paid for captioning.
Sponsorships are a legally untenable notion that makes the established rights of people with disabilities subject to advertiser whim. Milligan admitted, in a previous proceeding, 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.” (If they’re making profits off captioning, why isn’t there enough captioning and why does captioning suck?)
We’ve been through this already: Caption monitoring is the problem, not a solution.
In a system ostensibly guaranteeing 100% captioning, monitoring a “sample” guarantees that actual caption failures will be missed.
The concept of a monitoring project is a complete non-starter. It won’t work; it can’t be done in the first place; and the components that are actually practically achievable are the broadcaster’s job already. A monitoring project is merely a funding vehicle for Media Access Canada and solves no extant problem. A monitoring project is a make-work project.
Put on the spot – by the CRTC chair himself, not known for lobbing softballs like this – to “prioritize” one of her recommendations, Milligan came back with two: Fund her monitoring project and fund her claimed “harmonized industry standards.”
Milligan’s priority, stated as such under direct questioning, is not an increase in quantity or quality of actual accessible broadcasting but funding for her own company. Milligan, by her own testimony, is looking for a sinecure.
Bev Milligan writes that Canada really needs a body like Media Access Australia, which, she notes, benefits from an endowment. She’s really saying Bev Milligan deserves an endowment.
There’s no comparison whatsoever. Media Access Australia, while generally ineffectual and ignored, as all accessibility organizations are, at least has credibility, particularly in the person of its executive director, Alex Varley. Media Access Australia works out in the open with government and industry and doesn’t rely on backroom deals with industry friends, to name a habit Bev Milligan has proven herself unable to break.
At any rate, accessibility in Australia is so stunted – in essence, all they have is captioning here and there – that an omnibus organization like Varley’s is needed. In Canada, what we need are legitimate, independently-developed standards. We don’t need an empire run by Bev Milligan.
Milligan admits, in a tiny footnote, what her company Web site openly states: Media Access Canada already has been funded – via a backroom deal with CTV – to monitor captioning. Or actually it is not clear what the project does, given Milligan’s inability to write comprehensibly:
Monitor 2: A report on best practices in the provision of accessible media in Canadian Broadcasting will make possible the development of quantitative measures of the effects of policy, marketing and sponsorship revenue, on the availability, quality and technological advances of accessibility in Canadian broadcasting.
(Remember: A person who writes this badly wants an effective veto power over the written word as expressed in captioning and description.)
A European report holds that “he CRTC has... appointed Media Access Canada..., a consultancy company run by Beverly Milligan, to undertake a review of access services, looking at compliance (i.e., meeting quotas) and quality issues.” (When asked, CRTC refused to deny this claim. No entry for Media Access Canada or Milligan appears on the 2009 proactive-disclosure pages, but all that means is the contract might have been worth less than $10,000.)
If true, the Commission is in a conflict of interest. According to a report, the CRTC hired Milligan; CRTC is her client. And now we’ve got the chair of the CRTC asking Milligan which goodies it should hand her on a platter – paid for by somebody else.
Media Access Canada is an industry-insider organization with no research credentials, not an independent research body. As such, and with her history of failed projects, Milligan could reasonably be expected to produce the kind of compromised and slipshod “research” the CRTC and its friends have tried to pass off as valid. While this is speculative, the evidence is strong.
The collapse of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters in May 2010 drove a stake through the heart of the undead vampire of so-called “captioning research” in Canada. In CAB-sponsored “research,” hand-picked broadcaster insiders met in secret, wrote down what they already did, and passed it off as a standard. A legitimate standard is developed out in the open, with contributions from all interested parties, and tested to prove it works. None of that happened.
The CAB process was useful for the CRTC because it gave the CRTC a cover story. It enabled the CRTC to claim that outside research had been done. But in fact the industry controlled the whole thing, up to and including a rubber-stamp from commissioners, nearly all of whom used to work for broadcasters or telcos or will in the future.
In particular, this failed process gave current director of Social and Consumer Policy Martine Vallee a means by which to launder useless “standards” to the satisfaction of an industry that never wanted them in the first place.
In 2009, the CRTC again attempted to launder its “research” through the CAB, whose hand-picked “working group” of cut-rate captioners and seat-filling unknowns proceeded to conduct unrepresentative testing with “focus groups” and pass it off as research. Even the CRTC could not polish this turkey and ordered this claimed working group to produce statistically valid research.
As the CAB no longer exists, neither does that working group, so that particular sweetheart deal is dead on the vine.
I am reliably informed that the CRTC presently has secret committees working on standards for captioning and audio description. The captioning committee, it is said, has representation from the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, which refused to comment, and is ostensibly chaired or otherwise managed by former CAB nabob and publicist Richard Cavanagh, who also refused comment.
As such, I have reason to believe that not only does CRTC wish to force Shaw to swing a sweetheart deal with a company it reputedly hired, the CRTC is running its own “standardization” process behind closed doors with a compliant membership.
It’s no surprise that the woman who once thought that accessibility relies on the kindness of advertisers – remember, she invented caption sponsorships, now a source of outright consumer fraud – also believes that costs for audio description can and must go down. In fact, costs for captioning and audio description need to increase.
Broadcasters hate spending money on either of those and they shop on price. Why else could second-rate operators like BCCS and the curiously named Look Smart Captioning even exist? Why else would postproduction houses hack together their own captioning, and now audio description?
Milligan’s forecast of 5%-per-year reductions in description cost is hypothetical and, at any rate, immaterial to a multi-billion-dollar broadcasting oligopoly. It’s peanuts. Any reduction of that sort will do nothing but price legitimate suppliers out of the market. That’s exactly what happened when Rogers took over CITY-TV, for example – the best real-time captioner in the business simply closed up shop.
Broadcasters, if left to their own devices, would have a computer do their captioning at zero cost. Milligan, if left to her own devices, would badger the CRTC to require broadcasters to fund her operations, she testified, even as actual suppliers get nickelled and dimed.
Bev Milligan’s résumé is a bit thin when it comes to captioning – and practically nonexistent on the topic of audio description.
Once you remove her failed captioning software and failed sponsorship program from consideration, on the captioning side all you’re left with is a history of insider lobbying and the accident of being born to deaf parents.
On the description side, I see that Milligan formerly sat on the National Broadcast Reading Service board of directors (2003 NBRS annual report; Web listings through early 2006) and was listed as chair of the NBRS marketing committee (2005–2006 annual report). Perhaps she made a few contacts there, but actual accomplishments seem few and far between.
Where Milligan has no credibility or experience whatsoever is in standards development.
It’s plainly apparent that the CRTC intends to disregard even rudimentary ethics, let alone enforced government integrity rules, and require a private company to fund its own contractor. Fund what? One project nobody wants and another project the organization cannot carry out.
There’s another word for a deal like this: Corrupt. It continues to amaze that the CRTC can carry out structurally corrupt deals with the broadcasters it purports to regulate without ever managing to pocket a bribe.
The viable alternative to this nonsense is the Open & Closed Project. It’s an independent research project with broad support. Broadcasters don’t want to pay for it. Then again, they hate paying for anything on this topic, so it’s not as though we feel singled out.
CRTC doesn’t want broadcasters to pay for the Project, either, and has gerrymandered the rules for tangible benefits to ensure it didn’t happen. If we haven’t gotten funded through tangible benefits, Bev Milligan and Media Access Canada cannot, either. If proposals that are viable and would actually work can’t get funded through tangible benefits, empire-building cannot, either.
Benefits packages are already backroom deals. Don’t make matters worse.
Did you notice that nobody at all in this proceeding has tendered evidence about what Canwest is currently doing with captioning? Could it be that no one, certainly not Bev Milligan, actually watches captioning on Canwest channels?
(Does anyone at the CRTC or any broadcaster watch captioning – ever?)
Since Canwest took over from Alliance Atlantis, here’s what’s happened.
The in-house captioning department, which was due to be shut down completely but apparently wasn’t, decided that all shows, including fictional narrative programming, would be captioned in scrollup.
Scrollup captioning of prerecorded Canadian programming was banned by the CRTC. Broadcasters and captioners ignored the ban. CRTC ignored the flouting of the ban.
No songs are captioned, not even theme songs.
Some kind of voice-recognition software is used as a transcription aid, with no corrections whatsoever – Project Runway Canada and older episodes of Top Gear are incomprehensible due to misspellings, which Canwest assumed, correctly, nobody would call them on.
Like every set of underpaid petits fonctionnaires who think they can write, an entirely new English orthography has been invented in-house, wherein god is written in lower case (but not Santa) and all numbers, even ordinal numbers, are written with digits (1, 2, 1st, 2nd).
British shows arrive with bizarre and unwanted British PAL “captioning” transcoded to NTSC. Also unwatchable.
So that’s what’s happening with Canwest captioning. In case anybody but me actually cared, which apparently no one does.