Another year, another dog-and-pony show by vapourware peddler Bev Milligan, whose Access 2020 Coalition acts as a genteel lobbying front for a blatant effort to secure lifetime funding for her own empire. (Funding to do what, exactly? It’s never really clear, is it?)
This intervention is permanently located at the address:
Waltzing into the hearing room and, with her colleagues, pretending that the Bell accessibility fund, which doesn’t exist yet, has already been handed over to their exclusive control. Here Milligan has finally outdone herself.
Pretending that a report nobody ever asked for has actually been completed or will be soon.
Pretending that her shell companies haven’t already been funded, but acting as though even more funding is her birthright.
I suppose the bigger atrocity is the fact that the CRTC actually takes Bev Milligan seriously. A quick reminder of Bev Milligan’s attested history:
Milligan was the inventor of claimed voice-recognition captioning software that didn’t work, produced technically substandard captions, and was abandoned by clients.
Milligan takes credit for originating the pernicious practice of “sponsorships” for captioning, in which legally mandated accessibility for people with disabilities is provided at advertiser whim. In an augury of the present day, Milligan started up a company to act as some kind of clearinghouse or agency for such sponsorships, only to discover she was a middleman whom broadcasters wasted no time cutting out of the picture altogether.
Milligan’s company Media Access Canada, a reputed CRTC client, was already funded in a previous broadcasting takeover to produce a report that apparently still does not exist. (In the current proceeding, Milligan swore up and down that the curiously named Monitor 2 report would be done real soon now.)
In Bell’s takeover of CTV, Milligan demanded not only the full $5 million accessibility fund for her own unquestioned use but $19.7 million per year in perpetuity from future broadcasting acquisitions. To do what? Well, she’d spend $477,000 on first-year startup costs, but beyond that, who knows? Bev Milligan acts like other people’s money is hers by birthright (presumably the birthright of having deaf parents).
The reuse of captioning and audio description in Web video is not a simple process unless you want to present open-captioned recordings, which nobody wants to do. (I should know. I set up a system to do that at CBC ten years ago that died on the vine.) Captioning must be transcoded to myriad incompatible formats, many of which can’t even do half of what Line 21 captioning can do. As an example (not that you’ll bother looking into it), try captioning in any format other than invariant bottom-centred on YouTube.
There is no viable method to provide closed audio description, i.e., a description track you can turn on and off at any point in an online program. Audio description online has to be open in practice. Of course I expect appointed CRTC commissioners not to understand the technical facts. I was going to say I was surprised Bev Milligan was unaware of those same facts, but I quickly came to my senses.
Bev Milligan in no way represents an “accessibility group.” Her discussion of such groups’ “stall the caption-quality-standards process” is sophistry at best because Bev Milligan wants millions of other people’s dollars handed to her to write those standards – behind closed doors, with the help of “volunteers” or the gullible university students she occasionally has hired.
Netflix has lots of captioning in the U.S., but no audio description. Their captioning sucks, but it exists, and nothing stops Netflix from offering captioning in Canada.
Speaker-dependent voice recognition for captioning isn’t going to get better, already sucks for live TV, and is provably worse than stenography. Of course Bev Milligan advocates for it. Everybody likes it, except of course captioning viewers and legitimate experts. Those who like it do so because it’s cheap, not because it’s better.
You can’t simply require that “foreign program” be delivered with captioning intact. Some U.S. captioning sucks and needs to be replaced. Foreign captioning is in PAL teletext format (that’s just the tip of the format iceberg) and is completely unsuitable for Canadian audiences. We’ve been through this already.
Canadian broadcasters are already richer than God. That’s why they keep buying each other out for billions at a time. Broadcasters can afford 100% accessibility; they just don’t want to spend the money.
Milligan’s promise to “provide an incremental, revenue-neutral or profitable accessibility strategy for each broadcast group” is laughable on its face, but more importantly, it’s legally irrelevant. The CRTC has ruled several times that captioning is part of the cost of running a licensed broadcaster. So is audio description, one can only presume. (Hence newbie Commissioner Pentefountas’s demand [at ¶5425] that vulnerable disability groups cost out the price for rich broadcasters to meet their legally mandated needs is a complete non-starter. Pentefountas hasn’t quite figured out who butters the Commission’s bread, but he will; he won’t make that kind of beginner mistake again.)
And at any rate, the human-rights standard, which prevails over the whatever regulations might be issued by some commission here or there, unambiguously holds that accessibility must be provided short of undue hardship. If necessary, you have to spend money till it hurts, and maybe then some. “Broadcast group” aren’t anywhere near that stage yet.
Milligan’s priorities here are, as usual, out of whack. It’s always about money and profit – selling sponsorships for something that is already a legal right, ginning up a “strategy” so that already-profitable conglomerates can actually make money on the backs of disabled people. It’s craven and contemptible.
At every proceeding, Milligan rehashes the same warmed-over demands, which always boil down to turning over millions of dollars to her so that she can finally, at long last, construct an empire that will do everything but what we actually need done in TV accessibility.
Monitoring? Yes, Milligan is riding that hobbyhorse once more. I’ve demolished this argument already and I don’t feel like repeating myself. If you’re new here, only the CRTC has legal authority to “monitor” anything, which it refuses to do anyway, and in a system ostensibly guaranteeing 100% captioning, monitoring a “sample” guarantees that actual caption failures will be missed.
Standards? Commissioners don’t know the first thing about captioning, so it isn’t surprising they can’t spot a poseur with an entourage when they appear at Commissioners’ own hearing. The context right here is the fact that Bev Milligan has no qualifications whatsoever to write captioning standards.
First of all, she can barely write. Bev Milligan can barely produce a simple declarative sentence. (Nor is she an editor.)
Milligan has no attested educational qualifications. A degree in linguistics or psychology of reading would be useful in caption standardization; not only does Milligan have neither, she has nothing even in the same ballpark.
She isn’t a researcher and has no experience with standards development.
Here’s what Bev Milligan thinks is a standardization process: She gets some money from a broadcaster, claims to be working on a “Monitor” document for years at a time, can’t produce that document when requested, but promises to write another document at some point in the future that will – ta-da! – solve the caption problem once and for all.
Well, where’s her evidence? Where are her experiments and testing? Where is here peer-reviewed research? Where are the replication studies?
Where is anything but the opinions of a daughter of deaf parents?
Whatever document Media Access Canada may or may not produce between here and May 2011 won’t be anything resembling a “standard.” We’re all accustomed to having our intelligence insulted by the CRTC, but the fact that Commissioners were delighted to hear that Milligan promised to gin up something by May that they could impose on broadcasters by August is outrageous.
It’s also actionable. After years of failure (two “standardization” processes that were dominated by broadcasters and their lobby group; claimed “research” that was so jury-rigged and compromised that even the CRTC couldn’t accept it), it’s a complete non-starter to contemplate rubber-stamping an as-yet-unwritten document from an unqualified industry schmoozer and passing it off as some kind of enforceable standard. Try that and we’ll see you in court, or, more accurately, in complaints before the Privy Council and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
If the Access 2020 Coalition or Media Access Canada (or both) are actually run by “volunteers,” who pays her bills? What about the little-known shell company going by the name Analysis and Research in Communications Inc.?
Has the CRTC ever hired Milligan or any of her shell companies? If so, for what purpose and at what cost?
How much money did Milligan and/or her shell companies receive to write the vapourware Monitor 2 report?
If money were removed from the picture, i.e., if Milligan were assured of never receiving a cent for anything related to accessibility from now till Judgement Day, what involvement would she have in accessibility? Would it be limited to advocating for the same thing everyone who doesn’t work for the CRTC or a broadcaster wants – 100% accessibility?
Does the board of directors of Media Access Canada truly understand who they’ve gotten in bed with? Do they really think they’re backing a winner?
Who exactly sits on the mythical “working groups” Milligan keeps talking about? There sure seem to be a lot of them – a stated eight between now and next year, some with names longer than a European princess’s.
What are the qualifications, if any, of committee members? Why, presumably, are only her friends appointed?
Why are those groups secret?
Why, exactly, is Milligan treated as a credible practitioner in the area of captioning and audio-description standardization? With her litany of grandiose promises and record of commercial failure, why do the CRTC and broadcasters keep coming back to Milligan as though she were a selfless and respected authority on all matters related to captioning and audio description?
A CRTC hearing on accessibility wouldn’t be complete without a full range of howlers. I long for the day when Commissioners stop acting like greenhorns.
I would file a complaint about Sportsnet if the CRTC and Rogers had not completely ignored my previous complaint about CITY-TV. But let’s explain a few facts about Sportsnet.
It uses real-time captioning for the few movies it airs. All of them are prerecorded, of course. Not only is Sportsnet too stupid, cheap, or incompetent to get its hands on a captioned master, which exists 100% of the time for the movies it runs, Sportsnet remains those same things in failing to get the movie recaptioned in pop-on before airtime.
A live show that is aired later has to have its captions completely cleaned up and rebroadcast with live display. I am quite sure neither Susan Wheeler nor the Commission understands this fact, or even the terminology.
Another perennial feature at hearings of this sort is Jim Roots of the Canadian Association of the Deaf showing up to complain, with palpable exasperation, about being ignored, marginalized, and lied to. The CRTC never lifts a finger to remedy the underlying issues of which Roots complains. The result is predictable and borne out by experience – captioning never improves, either.
However, Roots is wrong to suggest that it’s perfectly straightforward to convert broadcast captions to online captions. It isn’t.
For the umpteenth time, what the CRTC maladroitly insists on calling descriptive video and audio description – which it claims are two separate things – are really one and only one thing, audio description. I gather that controversial newbie Commissioner Pentefountas had not been fully briefed on Orwellian CRTC terminology. How else to explain why the Commissioner had to ask a clarifying question (¶5433) of John Rae? (Rae at least has the integrity to use the internationally recognized generic term.)
What the CRTC requires broadcasters to provide is audio description. It’s one thing, not two things, and that is the sole name for it.
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.
We’ll be applying for funding from the legitimately constituted Bell accessibility fund and we’ll win on our merits.
Jim Roots did mention the overuse of scrollup captioning, already banned by rules CRTC refuses to enforce. But beyond Jim Roots, did you notice that nobody at all in this proceeding has tendered evidence about what is really going on with captioning and description? Could it be that no one else who appeared at these hearings, on either side of the bench, actually knows what’s really going on? (They don’t even watch TV, do they?)
Shaw, Bell, and Corus in-house captioning departments default to scrollup captioning for everything. In fact, Shaw never captions anything in pop-on, in my direct experience – not even fictional narrative programming. What is now the Bell in-house captioning department uses scrollup for throwaway shows like The Kids in the Hall, which are still prerecorded fictional narrative programs.
To recap: Scrollup captioning of prerecorded Canadian programming was banned by the CRTC. Broadcasters and captioners ignored the ban. CRTC ignored the flouting of the ban. (It still does.)
Radio-Canada just finished firing its stenocaptioners (a long-cherished dream of Quebec broadcasters!) in favour of el-cheapo voice-recognition software, which they somehow think will actually work.
A great many small channels do no captioning or next to no captioning at all, including Bite, Aux, Out TV, and – I say without having checked – all the porn channels.
Shows that are provably not live, including episodes of Mythbusters, are captioned with real-time stenography. So are repeat broadcasts of live sporting events.
Nobody, at all, provides real-time captioners with correct spellings of guests (and even hosts and reporters!) or proper names before airtime, a problem especially visible on all-news channels and TVO.
The former CHUM music stations, like MuchMusic, went from more-or-less-tolerable captioning, including absolutely stellar captioning of live music, to the crappiest imaginable real-time and scrollup captioning for every single show, even live shows with many music-video segments like The Wedge. The station formerly known as MuchMoreMusic is in direct violation of its licence requirement to caption all throws and banter from onscreen talent.
Oh, and hasn’t the Accessible Channel, which exists solely to funnel its mandatory subscriber fees across NBRS’s failing sibling companies, pretty much stopped airing new described programming because they ran out of money? (Or the only description they’re doing is in-house, in violation of the requirement that half of it be done out-of house.)
And is it just barely possible that networks like Global have nosedived in the amount of audio-described programming they air because they hand it to the money sink known as the Accessible Channel first? Through a quirk of accounting that is probably against the rules, a network like Global gets to pretend it aired the show if the Accessible Channel does first. Or do I have that terribly, terribly wrong?
Should I go on?
You’ve never heard of any of this, have you? But you’re happy to sit there and listen to another snow job from cuddly, nonthreatening Bev Milligan.
The Commission Chair, who is otherwise no slouch, seems to think the topic at hand is something like spectrum allocation or open licensing of sports and movie channels. Why else would he trot out the libertarian nugget (at ¶5404) that the Commission’s “principle is not to regulate unless there is market failure”? I thought his name was von Finckenstein, not Zinovyevna Rosenbaum.
Without regulation, we wouldn’t have captioning and audio description on commercial television and would have barely any of the former even on public broadcasters. The CRTC’s laissez-faire attitude has resulted in nothing but complaints and dissatisfaction from every single interested party – with the sole exception of broadcasters, who are laughing all the way to the bank when they aren’t losing those pesky human-rights cases.
In the context of captioning and audio description on regulated broadcasters, a refusal to regulate on the basis of some misplaced Randian ideology becomes indistinguishable from systemic discrimination against people with disabilities and is long overdue to be challenged at tribunal, I should think.