National Deaf Children's Society contacts Ofcom over Channel 4 subtitles delay

22 Oct 2021 News

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) has reported Channel 4 to communications regulator Ofcom, after the channel admitted problems with programme subtitles could last several more weeks.

Subtitles and other services for deaf viewers have been missing from nearly all Channel 4 programmes since September, when a fire damaged one of its broadcast centres. 

The channel said this week that the services “might not be available until the middle of November”.

In its letter to Ofcom, the charity said that Channel 4 will soon be in breach of its legal obligation to make programmes accessible to deaf viewers, and accused Channel 4 of “a complete dereliction of duty”.

Fire damage

Damage caused by a fire at the Red Bee Media broadcast centre, which broadcasts all Channel 4 services, forced the channel off air completely for a short time last month. 

Channel 4 switched to back up systems to continue broadcasting, but confirmed this week that it was still unable “to provide access services – subtitles, audio description or sign language support – for programmes broadcast since the incident”.

The channel said that it was completely rebuilding its access services, which means that they “might not be available until the middle of November”. 

‘Detrimental’ impact on deaf viewers

NDCS said that it was “alarmed” at news of the delay, which it said could have a “direct and detrimental effect” on deaf viewers in the UK. 

The charity wrote to Ofcom on Wednesday, to ask what regulatory measures will be taken against the channel.

The letter said: “Whilst we understand their [Channel 4’s] concerns to ensure that work does not cause the channel to come off air again, you must appreciate that for young deaf viewers who rely on subtitles, their channels have been practically ‘off air’ consistently for several weeks already. 

“Their proposed timetable is simply unacceptable.”

Charity: Incident shows ‘failure of planning’

In a separate statement, Mike Hobday, the director of policy and campaigns at NDCS, said: “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. If there was no sound on TV, there would be a national outcry.

“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.”

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