Canadian CRTC Caption Laws
Canada’s deaf and hard of hearing population have been advocating for higher captioning standards since the 1960s. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has done much work in the last decade to give Canadians a chance to voice their opinions and to make positive changes for accessibility in the broadcast TV space.
Closed Captioning for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
In 2007, after recognizing the importance of closed captioning, the broadcast industry established two closed captioning working groups under the direction of the CRTC. One working group was created for the French TV market and the other was created for the English TV market. Both groups included representatives from television broadcasters, distributors, groups representing deaf and hard of hearing individuals, as well as captioning providers.
The goal of these working groups was to form captioning standards that would ensure consistent and reliable closed captioning quality throughout the Canadian broadcasting system. Based on the work done by the two groups, the CRTC formed policies that instituted:
- Quality and quantity standards for closed captions.
- Protocol for monitoring and reporting on captioning quality.
- A vehicle for consumers to file complaints regarding closed captioning.
The CRTC requires most broadcasters to caption 100 percent of their programs during a broadcast day, which consists of the hours between 6 AM and midnight. They must also ensure that 100 percent of advertising, sponsorship messages, and promotional content is captioned. Finally, they must provide viewers with closed captioning – if captions are available – for all programming aired overnight, which encompasses the hours from midnight to 6 AM.
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The CRTC has also set quality standards for captioning. For pre-recorded programs, broadcasters must strive for a 100 percent accuracy rate. Live programming holds a slightly lower percentage at 85 percent for French captions and 95 percent for English captions. This difference between French and English is due to the closed captioning techniques which are used by each market.
Several additional policies to address are:
- Limiting lag time
- Correcting errors before re-broadcasting the program
- Providing sufficient on-screen information
- Controlling formatting
- Ensuring the captioning of emergency alerts
In addition to setting quantity and quality standards, the CRTC requires broadcasters to put in place a monitoring system to ensure that closed captioning is included in the broadcast signal and that captions reach the viewer in its original form.
An Added Level of Protection
The CRTC accepts complaints regarding issues with closed captioning. These types of policies can be difficult to keep track of, so the CRTC takes complaints to ensure that broadcasters comply with their standards. Action can be taken on behalf of complaints that are made to the CRTC.
Additionally, when an issue is suspected, the CRTC can request monthly calculations to monitor and evaluate compliance. In a case where it seems there is ongoing noncompliance, the CRTC can impose additional requirements to oversee a broadcaster.
All broadcasting complaints must be filed in writing.
The Let’s Talk TV Initiative
The CRTC’s 2013-2014 Let’s Talk initiative aimed to get the input of the Canadian people and open the conversation regarding what they want to see on TV. The CRTC asked Canadians to share their views on three questions in particular:
- What do you think about what’s on television?
- What do you think about how you receive television programming?
- Do you have enough information to make informed choices and seek solutions if you’re not satisfied?
More than 13,000 people voiced their thoughts and opinions, and the CRTC found that people (a) want access to high-quality content, (b) want value in choice, (c) want to understand what they’re paying for, and (d) want to know how to settle disputes with their service providers. There were many decisions and outcomes that came out of the Let’s Talk TV campaign, including future plans for captioning requirements for online videos.
CRTC Captioning in the Online World
As a result of the Let’s Talk TV initiative, the CRTC expects that closed captioning will be extended to online broadcasting in addition to traditional broadcasting in the near future.
Even when content is online, the CRTC:
- Expects that, if the content had captioning in its traditional system, it must be captioned when it’s published online.
- Requires that broadcasters report yearly on the availability of captioning for their online content.
Learn more about Canadian accessibility laws such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
This blog post was originally published in August 2017 and has since been updated for clarity and comprehensiveness.
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