Dáil Éireann - Volume 588 - 29 June, 2004

Other Questions. - Television Subtitling.

  11. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the long-standing campaign by organisations representing citizens with a hearing disability for 100% subtitling of television programmes by 2010; the steps he intends to take to ensure equality of viewing rights for all citizens; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19195/04]

  254. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his policy on the development of subtitled television broadcasts to allow persons with poor hearing to enjoy the full benefit of television programmes; and if he envisages introducing legal obligations on broadcasters to fulfil targets in this regard. [19465/04]

  Mr. D. Ahern:I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 254 together.

Section 19(11) of the Broadcasting Act 2001 provides that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland shall make rules requiring each broadcaster to take specified steps to promote the understanding and enjoyment by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing on programmes transmitted by each broadcaster.

As the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is a statutorily independent body, I have no day-to-day role in the making of those rules. However, my Department has requested the commission to give priority to this work. I understand the commission’s work is now well advanced. The commission held a number of forum style meetings involving the various interested parties in the final quarter of last year.

The format of the consultative process was decided on by the commission having consulted with interested organisations representing people who are deaf or hard of hearing. I understand that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is now nearing the end of its work which is now focused on finalising access rules. While I do not have a role in drawing up the rules that would apply to both broadcasters licensed by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and to RTE, I am in agreement with the principle established in the Broadcasting Act 2001 that people who are deaf or hard of hearing should have improved access [278] to broadcast services and that this access should be formally provided for by the broadcast regulator, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.

I also welcome the commitment by RTE to increase the subtitling of home-produced programming at peak time on RTE 1 and Network 2. As part of a four-year plan RTE has committed to continuing to increase the number of hours of home-produced programming with subtitling at peak time from 620 hours in 2002 to 1,116 by 2006. This represents an increase of 80% over the period.

  Mr. Broughan:I recently met members of the Irish Hard of Hearing Association on behalf of the Labour Party. I was a little shocked and taken aback by their presentation, particularly in regard to the performance of some Irish broadcasters such as TV3, on which subtitling is practically non-existent. The association gave credit to RTE, particularly RTE One, for achieving an 80% standard, but pointed out that we should emulate the BBC and other British commercial stations on which there is a major take-up of facilities for people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

Does the Minister agree this is a fundamental equality issue? Does he further agree it is time, rather than throwing the issue to another quango or to the BCI as regulator, for him to take a political decision and state that we will have 100% subtitling on all our TV stations by 2009 or 2010? We want that standard because it is an equality issue. It should be done.

  Mr. D. Ahern:It is not for me to make a political decision in this respect.

  Mr. Broughan:The Minister is a politician.

  Mr. D. Ahern:The Deputy was a Member when the Broadcasting Act 2001, supported by the Labour Party, was passed.

  Mr. Broughan:We tried to amend it and we failed.

  Mr. D. Ahern:Section 19(11) requires the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland to make rules regarding subtitling requiring each broadcaster to take specific steps to promote the understanding and enjoyment by persons who are hard of hearing of programmes transmitted. The Deputy cannot have it every way.

  Mr. Broughan:We tried to amend it but the Minister would not let us.

  Mr. D. Ahern:As usual the Labour Party wants to have it every way. The Deputy is giving out about quangos. It was set up by the Labour Party. The Oireachtas gave it the power to makes these rules independently of the political process. I fully accept RTE. The beauty of a public service broadcaster is that it responds much better than the private sector to issues such as this. One of the reasons I brought forward RTE’s charter was [279] to include the guiding principles for which the taxpayer will get a return for the investment being made in the licence fee. It was a pity the Labour Party did not make a submission to the consultation process when the charter was going through. The Deputy could have made all those points in the submission.

  Mr. Crowe:The Minister said this is a priority issue for the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. When will it be implemented? Is the Minister aware the hard of hearing and the deaf are interested in politics and that many have difficulty following “Oireachtas Report”? What is the priority? Is there a lack of will or is it a matter of cost?

  Mr. D. Ahern:The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland undertook significant consultation in this respect. It had a number of fora chaired by Kieran Mulvey on 7 and 25 November 2003, 11 December 2003 and 14 January 2004. These fora were attended by representatives of the indigenous broadcasters, ComReg, cable operators, the Irish Deaf Society, the Irish Hard of Hearing Association, the National Association of Deaf People and the National Council for the Blind. A series of bilateral and technical sub-committee meetings were also held. These are being evaluated. The work is well advanced.

  Mr. Broughan:When?

  Mr. D. Ahern:The consultation document is being prepared for issue to the public in July 2004. Under the legislation, the commission is required, by statute, to make available to the public a copy of any of the draft rules for inspection. It is proposed, in addition to a public notice on radio regarding the consultation, the draft rules should be circulated to a wide range of organisations, groups and individuals and, thereafter, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland will make a decision. The timeframe for the consultation is July to mid-September with consideration of responses by the commission in October 2004. It hopes to have the access rules come into effect before December 2004.