Joe Clark: Accessibility | Design | Writing

First response to CRTC complaint 52181

I would like to reply to the responses of Rogers and Global TV to my complaint of April 7 in which I documented allegedly illegal infractions of the CRTC’s simultaneous-substitution regulations. The issue: Cablecos are destroying U.S. audio-description feeds on SAP by substituting Canadian feeds of U.S. shows that do not have audio description on SAP.

Rogers response

I should start out by tendering the suggestion that respondents to CRTC complaints stay on topic. Ms [Anna-Rita] Caleca spends the better part of a page unnecessarily and inaccurately defining “descriptive video service” (a registered servicemark of WGBH; the generic term is audio description, which is not different from “video description” or “descriptive video”), then boasts of her own company’s policy of passing through Canadian-made description signals.

None of that has anything to do with my complaint. I would ask that this respondent find some other venue for corporate self-congratulation.

On the substantive issue of substituting undescribed Canadian signals over described American ones, Ms Caleca informs me that Rogers cannot stop that harmful and needless practice until the CRTC orders it to do so. I find it curious that Rogers Cable, which presumably disagrees with the entire philosophy of government regulation in the first place, shifts the blame for its own malfeasance to the Commission. “We were only following orders” scarcely holds water as a defense.

According to the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations, I am told, “if the Commission notifies the licensee that the deletion is not in the public interest” it may refrain from substitution. I would like a response to this question: Given that the CRTC has required or expected numerous Canadian broadcasters to provide description themselves, a fact of which Rogers is so aware that the company mentions it in unrelated proceedings, isn’t it clear to everyone that unimpeded transmission of description signals is “in the public interest”?

Apparently Rogers feels it must wait to be told before it does the common-sense thing – i.e., order head-end and control-room staff not to destroy the largest single influx of described programming in the history of television (200 hours per calendar quarter on the Top 4 U.S. networks). I anticipate that Rogers will respond that it is forced to abide by the letter of every single regulation, no matter how self-defeating or asinine. I would then ask for assurances that Rogers has never defied or transgressed the Regulations at any time in the past.

Global response

I explained to Lise Plouffe of the Commission that the only respondent in this proceeding is Rogers Cable, but the Commission, pursuing a misguided mission of completeness, has treated Global and CHUM as corespondents. Those networks were merely cited as broadcasters of two television programs I know were described on the U.S. feed that failed to air on substituted channels with description. I have not received a response from CHUM, but I assume it will be similar to Global’s.

I am a strong supporter of nearly everything Global has done with audio description of its own programs. Global will be familiar with, and presumably would acknowledge, my support of its activities. I have also talked briefly with CHUM about description. I am eager to remain on good terms with Global, CHUM, and other broadcasters, and the Commission’s assumption that they are respondents in this proceeding impairs that goal.

I accept Global’s declaration that it is currently impossible to receive the U.S. description track in time for broadcast (or at all, under any conditions). That will eventually have to change.

I do not blame Global or CHUM for what happened. I blame Rogers staff and management, for dumbly and automatically substituting undescribed signals, and the Commission, for equally dumbly failing to foresee this problem and take proactive steps to prevent it. It’s not rocket science: I spoke with and E-mailed Denis Carmel on this selfsame issue in November 2001 when Fox planned to air Star Wars: Episode I with description. Even without my notification, the CRTC should have the basic technical competence to understand what its own regulations would do to audio-described programming.

The CRTC here reasserts its position as culpably incapable and hopelessly mismatched against the task of managing even the simplest orders, like notifying all BDUs in Canada not to substitute undescribed Canadian feeds of U.S. programs. The CRTC – whose staff apparently never even watch television, let alone captioned and/or described TV – have again demonstrated unfettered and thoroughgoing incompetence and disregard for its own mission. The Commission is, as ever, clueless and asleep at the switch.


The remedies I now seek should be self-evident:

The Commission must issue a directive to all BDUs that preservation of foreign description and captioning signals remains in the public interest; accordingly, no BDU may substitute an undescribed Canadian feed over a described American one. That order must be issued immediately. CRTC lethargy, bureaucracy, and ineptitude have already resulted in the destruction of nearly all of two months’ worth of U.S. described programming.

Cablecos and other BDUs may tackle the problem in two ways:

  1. Don’t substitute the U.S. signal on the U.S. channel at all. To take an example, leave the Canadian feed of The Simpsons on Global and the U.S. feed on Fox.
  2. Carry out the same course of action as with Canadian-broadcast U.S. live programming, where only the commercials are substituted. This will nullify criticisms that advertising revenue might be lost in the other method, though it must be stated that accessibility trumps advertising under the provisions of the Broadcasting Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Charter. Since BDUs already have years of experience flipping the switch around commercial breaks, this is hardly an unattainable option. If it is, use the other method.

The ball, accordingly, is in the Commission’s court. It has a narrow but real window of opportunity to show basic competence, demonstrate its commitment to accessible television broadcasting, and do the right thing.

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Simultaneous substitution of U.S. described programming → First response

Originally filed 2002.05.28 ¶ Updated 2002.07.26

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