Falling on deaf ears….

Last November, I blogged about the campaign to get a discounted TV licence for deaf people. Blind people get a 50% discount; deaf people get none. The campaign included a Downing Street petition which I signed.
Today we got their response.

“We note the point that deaf people should receive a licence fee discount by analogy with the concession currently available to blind people. The concession for blind people has its origins in the old radio licence, which registered blind people received free of charge precisely because radio services were of special importance to them. Indeed, until 2000 the discount available to blind people was pegged at £1.25, which was the cost of the radio licence immediately before its abolition in 1971. The discount for blind people is now 50% of the licence fee, but we think the background to this concession highlights the complexity of the concessionary arrangements and the difficulty of allocating concessions on grounds of comparability.
“Under the Communications Act 2003, licensed broadcasters must provide minimum amounts of subtitling, signing and audio description and attain such technical standards as specified by Ofcom. Ofcom’s most recent figures, published on 13 May 2008, show that most channels exceeded (in many cases substantially) their obligations to provide one or other of the access services, and almost all met their obligations in full.

I’m afraid this completely misses the point.
The TV licence funds both TV and radio; deaf people cannot benefit from the latter at all, blind people can enjoy some aspects of TV, yet deaf people get no discount at all. That cannot be fair.

Subtitling is useless for deaf people who rely on signing. So even though around 90% of programmes are now subtitled on the main terrestrial channels, that’s no help. And as I’ve blogged before, subtitles don’t always get it right.

I think there’s still a case for a discounted TV licence for registered deaf people. And I’m disappointed that the government doesn’t agree.



  1. Jock said

    Genuine question – why is subtitling useless, or perhaps why do some people *rely* on signing and not reading? I’m not against your suggestion of a discount, indeed this regressive tax should be abolished anyway(!), I just don’t see why subtitling is a problem!

  2. bridgetfox said

    Hello Jock

    If you are hard of hearing, subtitles can make all the difference. I am slightly hard of hearing, my mother is severely hard of hearing, so our family rely on subtitles for much of our TV viewing. If you live by subtitles, you appreciate them, but also their many limitations.

    On live programmes – where the subtitling works a bit like predictive texting – you get some total nonsense coming up; and although they usually correct the errors that then means the subtitles start running behind the live speak, so chunks then get dropped to enable the subtitling to catch up.

    On recorded programmes, the subtitling is usually accurate, but the timings are very hard to get right. So while the audience is enjoying a dramatic or comic pause, the subtitling may blurt out the next line. In ensemble pieces, it’s not always obvious who is speaking. Analogue TV used to use different coloured subtitles for different characters, but that’s not the case on digital. Imagine reading a script where all the characters’ names have been removed.

    However, the reason I called it useless is in the context of deaf people who use sign language rather than english as their first language. If you are deaf and have never had speech, your first language is likely to be signing. In which case English subtitles are in your 2nd language – definitely second best.

    Subtitles cannot convey emotion which hearing/signing can. If you are hard of hearing, subtitles supplement what you can hear. If you are a hearing person watching in a foreign language, subtitles supplement what you can hear – and you get quite a lot from the tone of speech. But if you are deaf you cannot hear anything, so the quality of subtitling or signing is crucial.

    Many deaf people – although highly intelligent and educated – do not read english as fast as hearing people for whom it is a first language. So relying on subtitles turns entertainment into a chore. Imagine watching TV in a language you cannot speak at all, with subtitles in your 2nd language (eg watching Hungarian with German subtitles). Tolerable on holiday perhaps but you wouldn’t want that as your only option!

    I think there is an unaswerable case for a discounted licence for deaf people on the radio issue alone.
    But a discounted TV licence would also reflect the fact that deaf people cannot access the full range of TV programmes without signing.

  3. paulakeaveney said

    I hadn’t heard of this campaign Bridget but if it is still live I would want to do something on this. Can you e mail me any links that would help.



  4. Jock said

    Thanks Bridget, understand now! I also didn’t notice that the colours in subtitling had disappeared. I must watch out for that!

  5. bridgetfox said

    Hello Jock

    Actually having said that, my observation tonight shows that not all the colours have gone; it does seem to vary by programme not platform. But the basic case about signing for BSL speakers remains….


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