Minister to prod for TV audio descriptions

Free-to-air and public television broadcasters will soon receive a letter from the federal communications minister encouraging them to offer audio descriptions.

Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield will push free-to-air and public television broadcasters to start offering audio descriptions to cater for blind and vision-impaired Australians.

The commitment comes as Labor has accused the federal government of "dragging its feet" on ensuring the support is available in Australia.

Senator Fifield spoke about his intention to write to broadcasters while being grilled about Australia's lack of TV audio descriptions, which narrate what is happening in a program during gaps in dialogue.

That comes despite the government launching a working group in 2017 aimed at increasing their availability.

Senator Fifield says there is no legislative impediment to TV broadcasters rolling out audio descriptions, but it hasn't happened.

"It is clear that that has not been taken up," he told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday.

The minister said he would ask broadcasters how they could offer audio descriptions and what level of coverage they believe they could achieve.

He stressed public broadcasters should be ahead of the pack.

"The ABC and SBS should be leading by example in this area," he said.

The Australian government funded the ABC to run a 13-week trial on ABC1 in 2012 and the second on ABC's online catch-up service iView in 2015-16.

Both were well-received by those with vision-impairment, according to the audio description working group's 2018 report.

"The feedback received by the blindness sector consumer groups indicated that the first AD trial on ABC1 in 2012 was the first independent experience of television for some consumers who have been blind from birth," the report states.

"For others who experienced a loss of vision later in life, access to AD allowed them to rediscover the medium of television."

Labor says Australia is the only major English-speaking country yet to have audio description on TV.

"This isn't good enough," opposition communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said.

"The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has been dragging its feet."

Published 19 February 2019 at 12:48pm
Source: AAP