Joe Clark: Accessibility ¶ Design ¶ Writing

Comments on group licensing hearings (2011)

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?)

Permanent location

This intervention is permanently located at the address:

So: What are Bev Milligan’s atrocities this time?

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:

Bev Milligan’s factual errors

Accessibility need not be “revenue-neutral or profitable”

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[s]” 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.

Bev Milligan’s rehashed demands

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.

Unanswered questions about Bev Milligan

Other errors and issues

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.

Sportsnet isn’t doing anything remotely resembling quality captioning

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.

Jim Roots is as exasperated as the rest of us

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.

The CRTC can’t even describe “audio description” correctly

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.

There already is a viable alternative

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.

Incidentally, what is happening with captioning and description?

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?)

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 CRTC’s “principle... not to regulate unless there is market failure” is a failure

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.

Posted: 2011.04.29

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