Watchdog ignores call for more audio description


The broadcasting watchdog has ignored the views of hundreds of visually-impaired people who took part in a consultation on audio-described television.

Disabled campaigners accused Ofcom of “a total cop-out”, after it decided not to recommend any of three possible options on future minimum levels of audio-described TV, but to leave the decision to the government.

Nearly all UK broadcasters currently have to provide audio description (AD) – added commentary that describes body language, expressions and movements taking place on the screen – for at least 10 per cent of their programmes.

But an Ofcom review considered three options: keeping this minimum level of AD at 10 per cent; increasing it for all channels to 20 per cent; or increasing it to 20 per cent just for public service channels.

All but one of the groups representing visually-impaired people who took part in a public consultation – and more than 550 individuals who were visually-impaired or had visually-impaired family or friends – opted for an increase to 20 per cent across the board.

They said AD gave visually-impaired people “a sense of social inclusion, equality and independence”, while current levels were “inadequate”.

Groups representing hearing-impaired people – and Ofcom’s advisory committee on older and disabled people – backed an increase for public service channels only.

Some broadcasters argued there was not enough evidence to justify an increase, although the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky “committed voluntarily” to audio describe 20 per cent of their programmes.

Ofcom concluded that the arguments were “very finely balanced” and decided to leave the decision to Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, without making a “specific recommendation”.

But Ivan Lunn, chair of South Tyneside Visually Impaired Council, which took part in the consultation, accused Ofcom of “passing the buck”, “a total cop-out” and “dashing people’s hopes”.

He said he could not understand how Ofcom could say the arguments were “finely balanced” when visually-impaired people all wanted the levels raised.

Lunn said: “It gives visually-impaired people more choice of what they can watch on all channels.

“It gives them choice instead of sitting in a room with a group of people and when the sound goes off and other people are laughing, visually-impaired people cannot see what they are laughing at.”

Ofcom also concluded that further work was needed to publicise AD and will now discuss with broadcasters “how best to secure this”.

An Ofcom spokeswoman said: “Ofcom is an evidence-based regulator. Having weighed the evidence and the arguments, including the views of interested parties, Ofcom has concluded that the arguments for each option are finely balanced.”

15 June 2010

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