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Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Page: 7313

Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (18:41): I will speak briefly on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Improved Access to Television Services) Bill 2012. I certainly concur with my colleague, the shadow minister for communications, on the importance of providing equity in access to electronic media services. This bill, which addresses the issue of captioning, supports that principle. However, the coalition has some concerns and as my colleague has indicated he will be moving a number of amendments to reflect improvements that we believe should have been made to the bill.

One of the first issues is that it is unclear what happens if the captioning system fails due to a technical difficulty. We have the ironic situation that where a broadcast fails completely and the screen goes black a broadcaster would not necessarily be in breach of their broadcasting licence; however, if there is a failure of the captioning system, it may well be that that broadcaster is in breach of their broadcasting licence. We feel that the provisions of the bill are somewhat onerous on the broadcasters and that a more common-sense approach should apply.

The second issue I would like to address briefly is the hours of captioning. Captioning is required between 6 am and midnight, but it would be reasonable to allow a broadcaster to include the whole duration of a program that begins before midnight and may finish at perhaps 1 am in the morning as part of its contribution to captioning. This is a common-sense approach: a viewer who is dependent on captioning would not want the captioning to conclude halfway through the program. This second amendment is a very sensible measure.

The third matter I would like to reflect on is the very onerous reporting requirement imposed by this bill. A more common-sense approach of having a complaint based system, rather than burdening the network with very extensive requirements for record keeping, would be a better approach.

Finally, there is the issue of pass-through channels such as BBC, CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and Eurosport which may have relatively small audiences. It would be appropriate to exclude their programs from the captioning regime. Because of the cost of captioning—and it is quite expensive; it can be up to $750 per hour—if they were required to caption their programs it may be that those programs, which are enjoyed by a rather small but important audience, disappear from our market. So there were a number of sensible suggestions that the opposition has made. I would hope that the government could see its way clear to support those. But we certainly do support the thrust of the bill; it is an important improvement for disabled and hearing-impaired people.