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Broadcasting Services Amendment (Digital Television and Datacasting) Bill 2000

CHAIR —Welcome. Mr Tayeh, the committee has before it submission No. 6, which it has authorised to be published. Do you wish to make any alterations or additions to your submission?

Mr Tayeh —No, thank you.

CHAIR —Would you like to make an opening statement?

Mr Tayeh —It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk to you today. The situation in Australia must be improved by changes to the law. There is strong public support for our campaign. Forty thousand people signed our petition in 1993 to have subtitles on ABC and SBS news, including the 7.30 Report on ABC. This campaign succeeded. In 1997 I started a new campaign to have all TV programs and video captioned by the year 2000, including the Olympic Games, for the benefit of deaf and hearing impaired people in Australia, including my profoundly deaf son. Ninety-three thousand people have signed our petition and more than 800 letters of support have been sent to Channel 7 and Senator Richard Alston. Over 80 state and federal parliamentarians have sent letters to Senator Alston and to Mr Kerry Stokes. Speaking on behalf of several million deaf and hearing impaired people, I say that their cry for justice has to be heard. I regret to say the cry for justice has not been heard about the Olympics. The Olympics will bring a huge profit for commercial television broadcasters, yet they will provide only limited captioning of Olympic programs. Deaf people will not get the full service of captioning.

Only new laws would force companies to do the right thing for deaf and hearing impaired TV viewers. In my letter to the committee, I said that there must be change to the amendments for the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. I said that holders of a commercial television broadcasters licence, national broadcasters and pay TV operators should provide captioning of our prime viewing hours for both analog and digital broadcasting services by 1 January 2001 and full captioning of all viewing hours for both analog and digital broadcasting services by 31 December 2001. The above suggested changes constitute a modest proposal. Why? Because there is no excuse, and delay means justice denied. Australia will be shamed. It is not too much to ask in view of the billions of dollars profit being made. This money has come from the pockets of ordinary Australian people. The commercial broadcasters have ignored our campaign for justice, despite the millions of dollars they will make from millennium celebrations, the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, the Federation anniversary celebrations and the Commonwealth Games in 2002.

In 1997, the Australian Caption Centre estimated that a rough figure for captioning the Olympics for 14 days would be between $350,000 and $400,000. This is peanuts. I know it is more today, but it is still peanuts. It is all tax deductible. We have asked for a private member's bill to make it compulsory for this event to be captioned by those who are making the profit. So far, nobody in power has heard our call for justice. Justice is still denied to the 3.7 million hearing impaired Australians. Our earnest pleas for the Olympic Games to be fully captioned have been ignored. Now we appeal to you to take this step to defend hearing impaired people. Research shows that around one in two Australians have difficulty in hearing. Our own Prime Minister has a hearing problem, and anyone can be deaf. To not have access to information simply because of a lack of captioning is a great injustice. The disgraceful situation in Australia is that, after more than 25 years, only 19 per cent of Australian broadcasts carry closed captions, compared with 90 per cent in the United States of America and 50 per cent in the United Kingdom.

Since the establishment of the Australian Caption Centre in 1981 and the National Working Party on Captioning in 1991, they have dragged the chain in providing captioning for Australia. Both the working party and the Australian Caption Centre seemed unable or unwilling to recommend full captioning by the year 2000, including the Olympics, to the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations. They do not represent all deaf and hearing impaired people, because both are not independent. For this reason, our rate of captioning is very low. The Australian Caption Centre is planning to spend $250,000 on training staff before 2001 to ensure all programs can be captioned. Why did they not expend this money before to increase the rate of captioning on television?

On 27 November 1999, I received a letter from Kerry Stokes, Chairman of Channel 7, which informed me: `It is interesting to note that pay television operators actually remove closed captioning when retransmitting the signals of the free-to-air networks.' This discrimination must stop. Now is the time for action, and I ask the committee to seriously consider my submission. Do not punish the deaf and hearing impaired people because they cannot go outside parliament to scream their claim. Please respond to their disability. We look to you for action for justice for the deaf and hearing impaired people. I am willing to answer any questions.

Senator MARK BISHOP —I think you have probably answered the one issue I wished to pursue, Mr Tayeh. By and large, you have been very successful in your campaign of recent years to gain captioning, when one looks at this bill.

Mr Tayeh —Yes.

Senator MARK BISHOP —I was intrigued as to why the government had not extended the mandatory requirement to pay TV. Your submission requests that the bill be amended to extend captioning to pay TV.

Mr Tayeh —Because it is not in the bill.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Do you know why it is not in the bill? Has the government explained that to you?

Mr Tayeh —It is probably, I understand, because the television stations, which are commercial, do not want to spend money for deaf people. I cannot understand why the television stations ignore and neglect the authority of deaf people. Is it because they are deaf they are wrong? If there were a manager with a deaf son, I am sure the next day everything would be captioned for him, like I am here to fight for my son and, clearly, for all deaf people.

Senator MARK BISHOP —So none of the people who receive pay TV around Australia currently receive any captioning on the pay TV service at all.

Mr Tayeh —No, because, as Mr Kerry Stokes tells us, they said no.

Ms Hughes —I think it is an issue about people's lack of knowledge about what it is like to live in a world where people are disabled. All governments have responsibility towards making sure that we can all participate in whatever we choose to do. I think it is a lack of knowledge in the community about what it is like to live with a hearing impairment. If we look around the room here, there will be approximately seven people that will end up with a hearing impairment or some hearing loss in their lifetime. We are not talking about people who are outside this room. Within this room, your family members and you yourselves could have a hearing impairment at some stage in your life. I think it is to do with the issue that people do not understand enough in our community what it is like living with a disability.

It costs money to provide for people with disabilities to have access to the same services—things that we all take for granted, like being able to switch your TV on at night. Currently people that have hearing impairments can only see captions on about 19 per cent. I was hosting an international conference two weeks ago in Brisbane. My colleagues from the United State enjoy 100 per cent; my colleagues from the UK enjoy 50 per cent. They said to me, `Joan, what do you have in Australia for people that are hearing impaired in terms of captioning?' We looked like an embarrassment, internationally.

Mr Tayeh —There is nothing. Nobody supports the deaf community. Everybody supports only themselves; they like themselves and want jobs for themselves. But do they look after the deaf people? No. I have dragged the government into being in charge of captioning on television by preparing a forum to present the needs of deaf people directly to them so that they would understand.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Mr Tayeh, can I just interrupt you and pursue that issue you have raised in the correspondence of Mr Stokes. Prior to November 1999, the pay TV operators who retransmitted signal from the commercials included the closed captioning in their service. Is that what you are saying—it was deleted?

Mr Tayeh —In their own service they said yes but when they sold to pay TV they took off the captioning.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Have you made inquiries of the pay TV operators as to why they deleted the captioning?

Mr Tayeh —No.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Perhaps we might ask the pay TV operators and FACTS why that occurred.

Mr Tayeh —Exactly.

Senator MARK BISHOP —One final issue. Have you been able to look at the explanatory memorandum to the bill? Have you read this document?

Mr Tayeh —Yes, I have read some but not all of it.

Senator MARK BISHOP —There is a table at page 48 which surveys the level of captioning in overall time and prime time in 1997, 1998 and 1999 for the ABC, Channel 7, Channel 9 and Channel 10. It makes the point that, in respect of both the ABC and Channel 7, the degree of content at both prime time and overall has increased for the better over that four-year period, but in respect of Channel 9 and Channel 10 the degree of captioning at both prime time and the remainder of the time has decreased significantly in that period. Do you have any view as to why Channel 9 and Channel 10 have chosen to essentially reduce the amount of content that enjoys captioning?

Mr Tayeh —They do not spend money. In general, it is only 19 per cent. I have evidence to show you that when I started my complaint in 1993 it was only 7[half ] per cent. For the nation only Channel 10 has been properly captioned. Now because the government starts to prepare a bill to be passed, the television stations want to show the government that they do their job. The guidelines have been increased by five pages. Most of the increase in captioning has been by the ABC and Channel 7.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Ms Hughes, do you have any response to that point?

Ms Hughes —I think you need to look at the overall average, which we understand is 19 per cent. It would be good to get Channel 10 and Channel 9 representatives here today to give reasons why they have decreased. Our understanding is that it is to do with economics. It is what I said before—lack of people's understanding from the corporate level right through government to the community about issues to do with disability. And then there is the money factor—the cost of captioning.

Senator MARK BISHOP —So it is almost purely a cost issue.

Mr Tayeh —All money, nothing else.

Senator BOURNE —Mr Tayeh, you mentioned the very respectable amount of 95 per cent of US television is captioned.

Mr Tayeh —Yes.

Senator BOURNE —Can you tell us how long it took to get to that point in the US? Did it need legislation to do it? Have they got legislation in the US that insists that they have captioning?

Mr Tayeh —Yes. In the United States they have legislation. I do not know how long they have taken to caption 95 per cent.

Senator BOURNE —But it would have been just after the legislation went through. It was not huge before the legislation.

Mr Tayeh —Exactly. When the legislation came in automatically everything was captioned. If the government takes responsibility for captioning, everything will be captioned. But with our government, you could wait for the television stations for another 100 years before full captioning.

Senator BOURNE —You mentioned—and you have mentioned before, I know—the importance of captioning children's programs in particular. Can you tell us why you think it is so important with children's programs?

Mr Tayeh —Exactly. When kids watch television, they need to understand it to improve their English, especially non-English speaking people. The National Working Party has not asked the ethnic deaf community to be a member of the National Working Party. It has been isolated from the National Working Party. That really is discrimination.

Senator CALVERT —You are critical of the fact that the Olympic Games, for instance, will not be fully captioned.

Mr Tayeh —Yes.

Senator CALVERT —Is it really necessary to have the whole lot captioned? A lot of the action is action and some of the broadcasts are indecipherable anyway when the commentators get excited.

Mr Tayeh —Can you tell me why the Olympic Games should not be captioned? Deaf people have the right to watch full Olympic coverage, as hearing people do. For example, if it is not captioned and I and my son watch the Olympic Games together and I start laughing, he will think I am stupid. What do you think about that? As I said, it must have full captioning, so that deaf people can enjoy it as hearing people can. Deaf people, like everyone else, will have two weeks at home. What are they going to do? Watch walls?

Senator CALVERT —I realise that, but with the Olympic Games you have one channel covering the whole lot—Channel 7—and it is going to be a terrifically expensive exercise.

Mr Tayeh —It is not a terrifically expensive exercise. I am sure Channel 7 will make millions. I have evidence that everything will be tax deductible. We will pay for it, not the television stations.

Senator CALVERT —We will leave the Olympic Games for the moment. Regarding full captioning—for instance, if you take one of the major networks like WIN, which is regional television—all the regional stations have their news services in the area. The cost of having to provide captioning for those individual news areas, where they probably have only one or two people working in the studio, would be quite difficult to achieve, wouldn't it?

Mr Tayeh —In this country we have the technology and everything we need we can do. Nothing is impossible.

Senator CALVERT —It is impossible for me to receive pay television. It looks like it is going to be like that for the rest of my life, unless they put a repeater station in where I live.

Mr Tayeh —If people have the opportunity to watch pay TV, you can have captions. Why not? Why this discrimination? I am here to stop discrimination. I know the country is against discrimination. As for the deaf people and the isolated, now is the time to hear from the deaf people—not from any other organisation: straight from the deaf.

Senator CALVERT —I agree with that, but we are moving forward. The bill that we are talking about is certainly a victory for your campaign. I am sure that, as time goes on, we would expect things to improve. Where I come from in Tasmania, we only get four channels. It used to be three; before that it was two. Slowly but surely things are improving.

Ms Hughes —Senator, can I ask you: for those people that are hearing impaired in Tasmania, would you want them to have access to the sorts of shows that they would want to watch on TV?

Senator CALVERT —Of course, but if you have a small regional channel that only has one or two people running it, it would be rather difficult for them to arrange captioning for their news broadcasts or their small programs. For the national programs I cannot see that it would be a problem. But for some of the local programs—news broadcasts, for instance—I can see a problem in providing that service with such a small group of people available. It is hard enough now for them to go out and do outside broadcasts.

Ms Hughes —We understand that governments now want to get things back to the bush. One of the issues for getting things back to the bush is that people in the bush can have the same access to services as we all take for granted. Television is one of them. There has to be a way of big organisations subsidising some of those smaller local regional TV stations to get captioning happening. Once you can get the whole thing up and running there has to be a system to help subsidise those smaller regional television stations.

Senator CALVERT —That is the ultimate outcome, but a lot of places cannot even get television reception—until we have access to satellite television or something similar, which is further down the track. That is an ideal opportunity when you have a more general broadcasting or transmission area. I was just making the point on behalf of some of those small stations.

Mr Tayeh —We would like the government—the word, as far as practical—to be deleted from the bill. Secondly, the code of practice, 1.14.5, must be deleted too.

CHAIR —Thank you for your evidence and for appearing before the committee.

[11.44 a.m.]