FCC turns off the deaf

Sep 22, 2006 4:37 am
By Tom Roe

After a week when not one, but two studies turned up buried at the Federal Communications Commission, now they are attacking the deaf.

The American Association of People with Disabilities (see below) says the FCC is creating many new exemptions so broadcasters can get out of their closed-captioning responsibilities.

This emerges into the media after last week when the Associated Press reported, "The Federal Communications Commission ordered its staff to destroy all copies of a draft study that suggested greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage, a former lawyer at the agency says." A second, earlier, study that showed similar evidence of the negative consequences of media consolidation was also hidden from public view by FCC staff. Read Robert McChesney's analysis here.

So, perhaps, the government regulators are trying to weaken the closed captioning system because it doesn't just help the deaf watch television, but it also creates text archives of what is said on television. These closed-captioned texts are the sort of statistical data that the FCC could study and then later hide from the public.

From the American Association of People with Disabilities:

On Wed. Sept 13, 2006, the FCC issued one of the worst decisions it has ever issued on closed captioning.... Basically the order grants two requests for exemptions from the requirement to closed caption, a requirement in place since 1996 and that has ensured more and more closed captioning on television.

In taking this action, the FCC states that it is "inclined favorably" to grant new exemption requests to organizations that do "not receive compensation from video programming distributors from the airing of [their] programs," and who also say they "may terminate or substantially curtail [their] programming" or "[curtail] other activities important to [their] mission" if forced to caption.

The gist of what the FCC has done is to open the door to many more exemptions. It appears also the FCC's action creates a rule change that defines a new category of exemption from the captioning rules, cutting the legs out from the current "undue burden" proof currently needed to get an exemption for captioning requirement.

What the FCC has done is very serious. This new interpretation of the rules for asking for an exemption from having to closed caption has far reaching effects that go well beyond the specific TV programming in these two Orders and could extend to any entity, regardless of its resources, if they can make a case that "we can’t afford it" or "it ‘might’ shut us down."
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