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Australian Broadcasting Corp Comes under Fire after Cutting Transcription Services

  • Australian Broadcasting Corporation building

    The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has come under fire from disability advocates and politicians for their recent move to cut funding for transcription of its programming.

    ABC is Australia’s public broadcasting network (like BBC in the UK or PBS in the US), owned and funded by the Australian government. News broke of budget cuts to a crucial aspect of the ABC’s content: publicly available transcripts of news shows and other public programs.

    ABC would cut transcription altogether from some programs, and for others, the transcription service is severely degraded.

    ABC programs that suffer most from the cutbacks are:

    • AM
    • The World Today
    • PM
    • Correspondent’s Report
    • 7.30
    • Lateline
    • Insiders

    Cost-cutting results in fewer and lower quality transcripts. The cheaper transcripts have already been called “grossly inaccurate” by one politician.

    The cuts save the ABC $210,000 annually. When asked if the cuts were worth it, ABC’s Director of Corporate Affairs Michael Millett responded:

    “It does concern me that for such a small amount of money such an important service upon which many people rely – and certainly in this building but I put it to you across the country, given the significance of the ABC’s news gathering service – that we could end up in a situation like this.”

    Government Outcry

    Some members of Australian parliament such as Michelle Rowland and Carol Brown issued a public statement encouraging the Australian government to intervene. In a press release, the politicians encouraged the Prime Minister’s office to reverse the ABC’s budget cuts to ensure Australians with disabilities enjoy equal access to news and other programming.

    Representative Rowland asserted, “The transcription service is an important service which should not be cut to the bone and the ABC should be accessible to all Australians.”

    The Government has a duty to ensure that media content is accessible for deaf and hard of hearing Australians who rely on this service.

    Senator Carol Brown

    Senator Brown had this to say:

    “The Government has a duty to ensure that media content is accessible for deaf and hard of hearing Australians who rely on this service. The transcription service is vital to allow them to keep in touch with news and current affairs.

    For people who are blind it also allows them to download a transcript and read it through their own software.

    This is another attack on people with disability by a Government who have already cut funding for Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum of Australia, the peak organisations that represent Australians with hearing impairments and still have plans to privatise Australian Hearing.”

    Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin spoke out against the cuts to transcription services in an interview with the Guardian that went viral.

    McEwin criticized the ABC for choosing to slash their transcription budget without consulting this office or considering the ramifications for Australians with disabilities who would lose access to their content.

    Especially given the fact that the head of the ABC had claimed they wanted the ABC to be accessible to all Australians by 2020, but these cuts were a “backward step.”

    Because the ABC is subject to Australian accessibility law, it’s unlikely that the sub-par transcription service is compliant with the DDA.

    Reactions on Twitter

    Public outcry about the budget cuts spread on Twitter:

    Web Accessibility and Closed Captioning in Australia & New Zealand

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