Television captioning and audio description help people who have a hearing or vision impairment access television programs.

Captioning

The sound, including the dialogue, in a television program can be shown as text on the screen. This is called television captioning. Its uses include helping people who have a hearing impairment.

Captions include the spoken words as well as descriptions of sounds, laughter and music. When captions appear with speech, the colour of the text and where it is on the screen show who's speaking. If it doesn't matter, captions are usually white writing on a black backdrop. Captions are usually placed somewhere on the screen that won't interfere with the picture.

There are two types of captions:

  • Closed captions—can be seen only with a decoder, capable television or capable digital set-top box. This is because they are added to the television signal after the original program or movie was recorded. For television services in Australia, closed captioning is available on most televisions by clicking on the 'cc' button on the remote control or through the digital set-top box.
  • Open captions—can be seen on anything you can use to watch a television program or movie. This is because they are burned into the original print recording of a program.

The rules for captioning

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regulates television captioning in Australia. Captions must comply with requirements set out in legislation, industry codes of practice and the Television Captioning Quality Standard. A Captioning factsheet has more information about recent changes to these requirements.

Legislation

Free-to-air television broadcasters are required to caption all news and current affairs programs and any program screened on their primary or main channels between 6am to midnight, unless it's music-only or not in English.

Captioning requirements on subscription television channels vary according to the type of programming, which is divided into nine categories. Subscription television licensees have annual targets on the amount of programs that must be captioned. These targets vary depending on the category of the channel. Subscription television licensees may apply to the ACMA for particular services to be exempt.

There are also obligations on free-to-air and subscription television broadcasters to caption repeat programs. Free-to-air broadcasters are required to caption any program screened on their multichannels if that same program was previously screened with captions on any of their channels. Subscription broadcasters are also required to caption any program screened on one of their channels if the program was previously screened with captions on another channel provided by the same channel provider.

Television Captioning Quality Standard

The Television Captioning Quality Standard requires broadcasters to ensure that captions are readable, comprehensive and accurate. The ACMA completed a review of the Television Captioning Quality Standard in March 2016. More information about the review can be found on the ACMA's website.

Captioning regulation reform

In December 2015 the Department of Communications and the Arts released a consultation paper that discusses potential reforms to captioning regulation for broadcasting services. The consultation period is now closed. Submissions received are available on the Have your say page.

Complaints about captions

You can complain about television captions by:

  • Contacting the television broadcaster directly if it could just be a technical problem, such as captions dropping in and out.
  • Writing to the ABC and SBS directly if you have a problem with their captions. You have six weeks from when the program was broadcast. If they don't answer within 30 days, you can complain to ACMA.
  • Contacting the ACMA with any other complaints about television captioning.

Audio description

Audio description is an extra soundtrack that explains what is happening on the screen, for example, describing movement or scenery. It aims to help people with a vision impairment and those with print, learning and physical disabilities.

Between April 2015 and June 2016, the ABC conducted an Audio Description Trial on its television catch-up service, iview.

The Department has released the ABC's interim report on the trial's progress.

The ABC also trialed audio description on its ABC1 digital television service in 2012 and reported the results to the Australian Government.

The reports are listed below.

The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 does not require television broadcasters to provide audio description services.

Reports