As an MP, it’s generally expected that I keep abreast of current affairs and breaking news in order to be able to make informed comment on political topics of the day or in my portfolios.
However, this poses significant challenges for me because, like thousands of other deaf or hard of hearing New Zealanders, I am reliant on captioning to access any form of broadcast or on-demand television or video.
Even more frustrating is that I am not able to watch any news item via on-demand TV, even if it was broadcast with captions, because in New Zealand on-demand TV isn’t captioned.
If I miss the live broadcast, tough bikkies – I will not be able to catch up later.
This is why I was so interested in learning more about Australia’s captioning laws and regulations when I was overseas last week on a select committee delegation.
Everywhere I went captioning was available, including open captioning at café and bar TVs, and some high-quality live captioning of news.
And while I have known for some time now that New Zealand’s captioning levels are pathetically low, seeing for myself the high standards in Australia really brought that home to me.
Australia achieves high levels because it has laws that require broadcasters to provide captioning. Their broadcasters must ensure that on their primary channel, 100% of programmes broadcast between 6am and midnight are captioned, including 100% of all news and current affairs programming.
Here in New Zealand, instead of having laws and regulations, we subsidise profitable broadcasters with public funding to provide some captioning.
It is abundantly clear to me that we are never going to achieve the high levels of captioning we need in New Zealand under the current model of state funding of captioning.
Last election, the Green Party raised the idea that TVNZ and TV3 should bring in 100 percent captioning. This is something we stand by and would like to see happen.
But regardless of whether we move to mandatory captioning or continue with state funding of captioning, there is an important principle that we should all be able to agree on, which is to tie any provision of public funds for a project with a requirement for that production to be captioned.
For example, increasingly many government departments and commissions are putting out videos as part of information sharing to the wider population. Some of these are very clever and funny.
Some, this one from MPI featuring officer Goodboy are captioned but others, like this one from the Commerce Commission, are not, despite the fact that deaf and hard of hearing are particularly vulnerable to scams and financial exploitation. It should be a given that that all government videos are captioned.
Similarly for films and TV shows made with NZ on Air funding. When the taxpayer is stumping up for funding, this should benefit all taxpayers. It is shameful when programmes funded by NZ on Air do not screen in New Zealand with captioning but do so overseas.
It is time for the Government to take captioning seriously and to improve access for the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who need it. A healthy democracy requires a well-informed population. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people should not have to be fighting for something as basic as captioning in this day and age.
EDIT 5 May 2016: I am very pleased to be able to say that the commerce commission have informed me that they have now captioned their “It’s all good” series here.