A charity has written to Ofcom requesting regulatory action over the lack of subtitles currently plaguing Channel 4 following an outage that began in September, lambasting a ‘complete dereliction of duty’.
On Saturday September 25, a fire suppression system was triggered at Red Bee Media’s broadcast centre, which transmits all of Channel 4’s services.
This resulted in the systems being severely damaged, which caused channels and on-demand services to temporarily be taken off-air and has subsequently impacted the broadcaster’s subtitles, audio description and sign language interpreters on programmes, causing them to disappear.
In a statement, the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) said that it is ‘completely unacceptable’ that Channel 4 is unable to provide subtitles for viewers, with the lack of subtitles, sign language interpreters and audio description impacting viewers with hearing and visual impairments.
Channel 4 was recently criticised when it was announced that these services aren’t likely to return until mid-November.
In a letter, the NDCS said that it feels ‘grace concern at the protracted absence of subtitles from Channel 4’s content’, which is having ‘a very direct and detrimental impact on young deaf viewers’, while also pointing out that many of the 12 million deaf people across the UK are affected.
‘We consider a satisfactory resolution of these issues is now long overdue and needs to be addressed as a matter of the utmost urgency,’ the charity said.
Mike Hobday, director of policy and campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society, added: ‘It’s simply unacceptable that Channel 4 is unable to provide subtitles for its viewers.
‘We’re hearing from numerous deaf children and young people who are deeply frustrated at not being able to watch their favourite programmes with their family and friends.’
Mike said that if there was ‘no sound on TV, there would be a national outcry’, adding that ‘until recently, Channel 4 has been widely celebrated as a force for good in the disability sector, promoting and advancing disability awareness, equality and inclusion’.
‘However, the failure of its planning and the weakness of its response leaves us wondering whether accessibility remains a priority,’ he stated.
‘Reinstating subtitles quickly would mean the welcome return of programmes that have effectively been ‘off air’ to deaf people for weeks. It would also send the message that young deaf people are valued viewers too.’
Maia, a deaf 16-year-old from Sussex, said that she feels ‘frustrated’ that she is missing out on ‘vital moments’ on Channel 4 shows, including The Great British Bake Off, saying that she ‘can’t laugh at any of the jokes, let alone understand what is happening’.
An Ofcom spokesperson said that the watchdog shares the concerns expressed by the charity, ‘which are causing deep upset and frustration’.
‘Channel 4 did not have strong back-up measures in place, and it should not have taken several weeks to provide a clear, public plan and timeline for fixing the problems,’ they said.
‘We have met Channel 4 to express our concerns and ensure it meets its timings for restoring subtitles, signing and audio description. We will then consider any further action.’
On Tuesday this week, Channel 4 said that it had begun to trial new ways of reinstating subtitles on some of its shows, with subtitles being added to programmes including Bake Off and Gogglebox on its streaming platform.
The broadcaster also apologised to viewers in a statement, saying: ‘We realise how frustrating this is for our viewers and we have been in helpful discussions with RNID to aid our communications around the issues.’
The company added that this is a ‘complex, sequential process and needs to be done without compromising our broadcast capability’, which is why ‘full access services’ may not fully return until next month.
What is Ofcom and what does it cover?
Ofcom is the regulator for the communications services that we use and rely on each day.
The watchdog makes sure people get the best from their broadband, home phone and mobile services, as well as keeping an eye on TV and radio.
Ofcom deals with most content on television, radio and video-on-demand services, including the BBC. However, if your complaint is about something you saw or heard in a BBC programme, you may need to complain to the BBC first.
Its rules for television and radio programmes are set out in the Broadcasting Code.
The rules in the Broadcasting Code also apply to the BBC iPlayer.
This Broadcasting Code is the rule book that broadcasters have to follow and it covers a number of areas, including; protecting the under-18s, protecting audiences from harmful and/or offensive material and ensuring that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.
Audiences can complain to Ofcom if they believe a breach of the Broadcasting Code has been made.
Every time Ofcom receives a complaint from a viewer or listener, they assess it to see if it needs further investigation.
If Ofcom decide to investigate, they will include the case in a list of new investigations, published in the Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin.
An investigation is a formal process which can take some time depending on the complexity of the issues involved.
Ofcom can also launch investigations in the absence of a complaint from a viewer or listener.