Closed captioning in Australia

At the age of 5, my mother bought a tiny Panasonic TV (it was TINY – about 31cm, if I remember) for our caravan. We all loved it. I loved it because everything was so animated. I could already read, but I didn’t know it was possible to watch TV with captions.

Fast forward to 2 years later.

I was 7 when I first came across closed captioning. School was about to finish up for the year, and my teacher had put Home Alone in the VHS player. There was an odd device sitting on top of the VHS player. My teacher fiddled with it then pressed play.

BEHOLD!

There was CAPTIONS!

I was beyond mesmerised. It felt like a whole new world had opened up right in front of my eyes.

I then discovered the Bundaberg Library had VHS tapes with open captions, and I didn’t need a special device connected to the VHS player in order to be able to play the movies. I loved it.

By the time I was 9, I had watched The Neverending Story SO many times with open captions.

I was 10 when my mother decided to uproot and move us to Brisbane, and she enrolled me at a mainstream school with a Deaf facility. They had a HUGE collection of movies with captions on VHS tapes, and I took advantage of it. One of the teachers there took it upon himself to tape all movies playing on TV with captions, so we could borrow them anytime we liked.

It was around the same time I realised how important it was to be able understand popular culture, and to keep up with the times. Captions provided that opportunity. I remember watching an action movie, and one of the main characters said “YOU ROTTEN SON OF A BITCH!!!”. I laughed because I had learnt that people can be creative with insults.

I also learnt more about history and the world around me. In Grade 6, we were learning about the World War I, and I had discovered I was a history buff. I was constantly transfixed, especially when my teacher showed us two Australian movies – Gallipoli and The Light Horsemen. I still love military movies 😉

My teacher gave me a petition paper from Australian Association of the Deaf (now known as Deaf Australia). They wanted to make captioning mandatory during primetime TV (6pm-midnight). I took the petition paper home and got signatures from my family, neighbours and the local church. Deaf people did the same all over Australia. It was successful, and we were able to access more TV programs at night time. Deaf Australia has been working hard on captioning access in Australia for the last 20+ years, and their job still isn’t done.

With the introduction of DVDs, we were able to watch more movies, TV series and documentaries than before with captions. There has been times I was disappointed to find out a particular movie or TV series on DVD did not come with captions, only to learn that it was available from either UK or USA and I would have to order online.

Captions have become a huge part of my life. I’ve learnt more about popular culture. I’ve learnt more about the world. Heck, I’ve learnt to memorise my favourite quotes from TV shows and movies.

Rory: You look happy.

Lorelai: Yeah.

Rory: Did you do something slutty?

Lorelai: I’m not that happy.

Gilmore Girls: Season 1 – Pilot (S1E1)

Australia has always been decades behind UK and USA in regards to captioning, and there’s still lots of work to be done yet. Like many other Deaf people around the country, I’ve resorted to Netflix because of their fantastic captioning provision and quality. Quickflix doesn’t provide captions for their streaming service, which is highly disappointing BUT Netflix is a lot cheaper than Quickflix. Foxtel doesn’t provide captions for their streaming service either. Only ABC iView and 7Plus provides captions. Access to Australian streaming services is still limited, hence my decision to jump onto the Netflix & VPN bandwagon. Well worth the money, I’ll have you know that 😉

The other day, I learnt that the Abbott Government wanted to get rid of mandatory reporting on captioning for TV broadcasters in the proposed The Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014.

If the Bill is passed, we will be taken backwards. Waaaaaay backwards. Decades behind our UK and USA friends.

And not only the Deaf community, but for those who like to watch shows with captions for many other reasons.

Without mandatory reporting, the quality and quantity of closed captioning will go downhill…slowly, if it is not already. Our complaints might be ignored and become lost in the system.

That being said, the Abbott Government is a HUGE joke. It’s easily the worst Government in nearly 30 years of my life.

We need to fight against the proposed Bill. We need to show the Government that this is not cool.

Let’s get together and make sure the Bill does not pass.

Yours in CC,

S xo

Links to news articles:

Government proposes to end caption reporting by free-to-air broadcasters

Deaf community concerned over proposed changes to television captioning requirements

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