Joe Clark: Accessibility ¶ Design ¶ Writing

Intervention in CRTC 2013-12

This intervention opposes the acquisition of the Score by Rogers. The Score has been in material breach of its requirement to caption its programming for years. (Then again, so has Rogers.) I accuse the Score of attempting to deceive the CRTC, if unwittingly, regarding its method of captioning, and in any event I can prove that the Score’s captioning is completely unintelligible at all times. This degree of incompetence and contempt cannot result in a payday.

Rogers itself is contemptuous of and incompetent at the task of captioning and it too must not be rewarded for its own failures.

Permanent location

This submission is permanently located at the address:

The complete shitshow that is the Score’s automated captioning

On the available evidence, i.e., as is evident by simply watching the Score with captioning, this broadcaster, now lining itself up for a nine-figure payday, uses completely automated captioning in contravention of what passes for CRTC rules. The result, irrespective of method, is completely unintelligible captioning.

I complained about this before (CRTC Case 547551), which resulted in a badly typeset three-page letter of prevarications by the Score’s deputy counsel, Damien McCotter, dated 2011.10.11. In it, McCotter:

I call bullshit on the Score’s entire captioning enterprise. No one knows more about captioning in Canada than I do, and I’ve certainly been watching captioning longer than McCotter has (about 32 years in my case). The only conceivable way in which the Score’s captioning could be this bad, this random, this unintelligible, and exactly the same on every program, live or pre-recorded, is if a computer were doing it without human intervention.

To be very clear about what I am saying in this public process on a pressing public issue of meeting the mandated legal rights of people with disabilities: McCotter must have been misled by others at the Score about how captioning is done there. It would be unethical of him to lie to me in writing about the Score’s captioning process. I can conclude only that he didn’t know better or was deceived by his own internal client. McCotter claims, in effect, that 11 people working at a subsidiary of the Score conscientiously and competently and comprehensibly caption all its programming. I don’t believe that for a second.

What those 11 people are doing, if they even exist, is unclear to me based on the available evidence. I believe the Score has realized the longstanding dream of the middle-aged male broadcasting executive who never got into this business to spend money on captioning for cripples. In this dream, the executive’s minions hunt around for a second-hand Wintel box, add some kind of sound card to it, install Dragon Dictate or some other off-the-shelf voice-recognition software, connect the whole shebang to a caption encoder, plunk it down in a closet somewhere, and forget about it. (“Boom: 100% CRTC compliance for pennies!”)

The proof of the pudding is in the taste, and captions this shitty are conceivable only if produced by a purely automated method. In fact, if you want captioning you can actually understand on the Score, ignore the programming and watch the commercials. Captioning on the Score is nothing more than a glossolalic sluice of capital letters that occasionally resemble English words. Not even a semiliterate broadcasting executive in line for a huge acquisition payday, or a government mandarin, could reasonably understand programming on the Score by captioning alone.


Taking the Score at face value for a moment

If I am incorrect and McCotter is telling the truth and the Score really does have a subsidiary that does nothing but caption, I need answers to a few questions.

(In a delicious twist, this captioning subsidiary is listed as an asset in the acquisition of the Score. Isn’t it more of a liability?)

Further, if I am incorrect and McCotter is telling the truth and the Score really does have a subsidiary that does nothing but caption, I want the Score to produce an uninterrupted, unedited one-hour video showing these captioners at work on a day and time of my choosing along with the resulting captioned feed. In other words, if Damien McCotter isn’t lying to me, his company can prove it. With $171 million riding on it, it’s the least they can do. (We’ll also need profit-and-loss statements and balance sheets from this subsidiary; timecards or equivalent proving the 11 employees actually worked; and proof of outside clients, if any, including invoices and proof those were paid.)

Given my expertise and the available evidence, I simply cannot believe McCotter’s claims. You wouldn’t, either. You can decide for yourself how intelligible the Score’s captioning is just by watching it. This is unlikely to happen, of course, because broadcasters do not really watch TV, and the CRTC certainly doesn’t. What programming they do watch never has captioning. They find captioning confusing and offputting, perhaps because it stinks so badly and certainly because they just aren’t used to watching captioning.

But I’ll make it easier for everybody. CRTC mandarins can watch the five continuous hours of the Score’s captioned feed that I taped and will submit under separate cover. If the Score wants to watch that recording, it can do what the CRTC expects average citizens to do whenever we are invited to “participate” in a public process: It can get on a plane to Ottawa.

Prerecorded programming

Given the Score’s evident incompetence and defensiveness, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Score can’t even manage to get its hands on a captioned tape of an already-captioned American program. Now, what the Score is doing running Eastbound & Down in the first place is beyond me, but it takes a lot of chutzpah to either:

For homegrown programming like Into the Fire, there is no excuse, and now no legal basis, to provide anything but pop-on captioning.

The Score has been in violation of its licence for years

Due to the unintelligibility of the Score’s captioning, however caused, programming on the Score has never actually been legally “captioned.” Stuffing characters into Line 21 of the vertical blanking interval does not constitute “captioning,” in practice, in law, or under CRTC policy.

Rogers, with almost as much contempt for captioning, is a fitting suitor for the Score

Widely reviled oligopolist Rogers displays almost as much contempt for captioning as the Score does. That just means they are a match made in heaven, or at least in the rubber-stamp-like CRTC acquisitions process.

All of Rogers’ networks are disastrously inept at captioning. The fact that they apparently use BCCS as a contractor is prima facie evidence of their contempt for captioning even if the results didn’t easily establish that.

On FX Canada, Rogers cannot always manage to get its hands on a precaptioned tape of Louie, one of its marquee shows, sending out episodes to (presumably) BCCS to be miscaptioned in scrollup. Those scrollup-captioned episodes are simply not replaced with correct pop-on-captioned episodes for reruns.

On that same channel, Rogers is so inept it cannot air already-captioned copies of U.S. movies that have been captioned upwards of four times. In a shocking misuse of scarce captioning talent, Rogers uses real-time captioning for years-old Hollywood reruns. I’ve got pictures.

And those are just some of the examples. (Murdoch Mysteries was a particularly egregious case, in fact.)

CITY-TV is no better. I recall an airing of Starsky and Hutch (2012.08.12, if my records are correct) with real-time captioning.

I’m sure the response, if any, will be that these program were captioned so shut the hell up, and anyway there was no other option but real-time captioning. If that’s the response, my retort is a simple one: I’m tired of being lied to.

Remedies sought

And while all this is happening, the CRTC can come down from its ivory tower and actually watch TV with captioning.

Posted: 2013.02.20 ¶ Updated: 2013.02.27

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