Edith Cody-Rice, Senior Legal Counsel
Direct: (613) 288-6164
Facsimile: (613) 288-6279
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – Law Department
P.O. Box 3220, Station C
181 Queen Street
Ottawa, ON K1Y 1E4
Telephone: (613) 288-6164
Facsimile: (613) 288-6279

K:\A Client Files-O\English TV\2003-00400 Closed Captioning - ETV_ECR\Complaint of Joe Clark\Response to CHRC\Final Document\LET 2006-01-20 ecr to P Dufresne FINAL logo.doc

January 20, 2006


Mr. Philippe Dufresne,
Director and Senior Legal Counsel,
Canadian Human Rights Commission,
Floor 08,
344 Slater St.,
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1E1

Dear Mr. Dufresne:

Closed Captioning – ETV
Our file Nº 2003-00400

This is the second letter of response from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission from Mr. Joe Clark, dated October 12, 2005, regarding closed captioning on CBC Television and CBC Newsworld. Further to our initial letter, dated December 7, 2005, we have undertaken an internal operational investigation regarding the issues articulated in Mr. Clark’s complaint. We are also conducting an “environmental scan” to gain greater clarity on current industry standards and practices in the Canadian television system.

We address Mr. Clark’s criticisms in the three categories he used in his complaint: Missing Captions, Quality, and Interpretation.

Missing Captions

Mr. Clark alleges 130 instances of absent captions. If accurate, this represents less than 1⁄4 of 1% (.023%) of the total telecast time in question. While we strive for perfection in captioning this is impossible in the captioning environment and this tiny level of error January 20, 2006 2 represents substantially complete compliance. Our investigations reveal a number of reasons for such absences. Some relate to technological issues or human error, incidences which are realistically to be expected and which we attempt to mitigate. Others, we can and will mitigate with operational changes. We dispute Mr. Clark’s contention that captions should be present in some of the instances he cites. Our environmental scan may produce a rationale for revisiting these.

Absence of captioning due to technological problems or human error

As Mr. Clark points out, some missing captions are due to the failure of captioners to leave the CBC encoder in pass-through mode. This is clearly a human error issue. Both CBC and the captioning services management remind captioners to be vigilant in this regard, and the incidences are relatively rare. VTR operators are now expected to monitor all main network captioning sessions, in order to catch disconnects or garbled captions.

Many of Mr. Clark’s noted absences occur at the top of the clock on Newsworld. This is coincident with changing shifts among captioners. As it is impossible for one captioner to cover an entire 24-hour period, there is a period during which one captioner must “kick- out” and the next “dial-in.” We are investigating whether a solution to this problem is possible.

Unfortunately, power outages and encoder disconnects are technological failures that are bound to occur on occasion. Mr. Clark makes specific reference to the Pan Am Games in 2003. CBC fault records indicate failure on August 10, 2003 for 15 minutes due to a captioner’s inability to establish connection with CBC/Radio-Canada encoders.

Operational issues that CBC has corrected or will correct

Line-ups and news promos for The National and Canada Now, which may have been uncaptioned formerly are now captioned routinely. Mr. Clark’s examples arose primarily in 2002 and early 2003, and were a result of the captioning learning curve in individual program units. Captioning is still absent from late-breaking news on rare occasions. We are seeking means to further ensure that captioning is not missed on these segments.

Bumpers, billboards, sponsorships, and special presentation voice-overs are added in different areas, at various stages of programs in preparation for broadcast. In some cases, captioned program material is edited for time and uncaptioned bumpers are added. These added elements then require captioning, prior to ingest for presentation. Other programs require editing due to the addition of “hosted prime” segments. While in most cases the process has been fail-safe, we have uncovered several opportunities for the inadvertent omission of closed captioning. We have augmented the coordination process to avoid such problems in future.

Absences that CBC contends are appropriate

Sub-titled programming is not further captioned in normal circumstances. While some individuals may prefer more text to cover the video images, it is CBC’s view that, on balance, the marginal gain from the addition of captioning for the hearing impaired is outweighed by the additional video lost.


While CBC shares Mr. Clark’s commitment to the highest quality of closed captioning, it is, perhaps, impossible to achieve as Mr. Clark defines it, within the real-world broadcast environment and with finite resources. His complaints fall into the following categories:


Mr. Clark alleges that CBC in-house captioners are unqualified. This is untrue. CBC hires the best qualified persons available, usually experienced captioners, or university graduates with a major in English. They are subject to testing designed specifically to evaluate captioning abilities. CBC uses an in-house guide to maximize consistency in style. Interpretation and judgment may differ slightly among captioners.

Mr. Clark cites the use of upper case. CBC policy for use of upper case is consistent with the correct usage as stipulated in the CAB closed captioning guidelines. Any departures from that standard are rare. Misuse of character encoding and misjudgment in positioning are also rare. There is no disregard for quality, but the high-stress, time-sensitive broadcast environment may result in some captioning errors. CBC will schedule a review of protocols with our staff, as well as our outside service providers, to further reinforce the importance of consistency and quality in the captions created.

Use of scroll-up vs. pop-on captioning

Mr. Clark cites CBC’s use of scroll-up captions on fictional narrative programming. This is relatively rare as most prime time programming comes to CBC complete with pop-on captions. We calculate that 63% of a typical broadcast day on the CBC main network and 80% of non-live programming are captioned with pop-on captions. Exceptions may occur when CBC must apply captioning on a short-timeline prior to broadcast, or when CBC must edit previously pop-on-captioned films for time. Certain editing equipment strips captions which must be recreated. Occasionally a distributor delivers uncaptioned programming less than 48 hours prior to broadcast. In these cases, the program or film may be re-captioned using the scroll-up method.

Mr. Clark is correct in his assertion that CBC chooses the use of scroll-up over pop-on captions in many instances due to time and resource constraints. It is worth noting that the CAB guidelines state, “off-line roll-up captions are being used more and more frequently as an acceptable alternative to off-line pop-on captions” and “when deadlines are extremely tight, roll-up captions can be prepared more quickly than pop-on.” Captioning with pop-on captions takes four times as long as captioning with scroll up captions.

Mr. Clark cites the example of “The Greatest Canadian”, and points out that there was time for described video (DV) to be produced for this series. In fact, the production of DV for this series was extremely challenging for both the network presentation areas and the description service as the last minute delivery of the finished programs left inadequate time for pop-on captioning.

Reuse of real-time captions

CBC currently leaves in place the original real-time captions when programs that have been captioned in real time are repeated. To recaption all this programming would be prohibitively expensive without significantly increasing the value of the captioning.

Re-captioning of real-time captioned programming

CBC Newsworld may recaption real-time programming that has previously been captioned on the main CBC network. While these programs may look identical to the viewer when broadcast on Newsworld, they have been repackaged with new intros and other elements. Mr. Clark points out that the real-time captioner simply stops if there are apparent pop-on captions. We have identified a possible operational adjustment that could improve the presentation of such programming.


Mr. Clark’s conclusions about CBC’s attitude to closed captioning are totally without foundation. CBC is always interested in providing the best captioning available and a thorough investigation of the specific issues brought forward in Mr. Clark’s complaint has been undertaken. We have identified several opportunities for improvement. We will continue to review procedures and associated resource requirements in accordance with industry standards and responses from consumer groups and will provide you with further results of our investigation when they are available.

Yours very truly,
Edith Cody-Rice

Ian Alexander
Heather Boyce
Brigitte Ouellet

See also: