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Channel 4 attacked as it emerges subtitles may not be fixed until the middle of November

Written by on 22 October 2021

A charity has called on Ofcom to take regulatory action to address Channel 4’s lack of subtitles, which may not be fixed until mid-November.

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) wrote to the broadcasting watchdog seeking a resolution to the “completely unacceptable” delay, describing the issue as a “dereliction of duty”.

A spokesman for Ofcom said the regulator shares the NDCS’s “concern”.

Channel 4 announced on Tuesday that subtitles, sign language and audio description may not come back to some of its services until the middle of next month following a technical issue that has repeatedly disrupted its output.

Audio and picture problems were triggered by the “activation of the fire suppression system” at a broadcasting centre that handles playout services for Channel 4 and Channel 5, according to the site’s owner Red Bee Media.

The NDCS said many of the UK’s 12 million deaf residents could no longer access the broadcaster’s programming.

The charity’s letter says the absence of subtitles is a “grave concern” that is having “a very direct and detrimental impact on young deaf viewers”.

“We consider a satisfactory resolution of these issues is now long overdue and needs to be addressed as a matter of the utmost urgency,” it says.

Mike Hobday, director of policy and campaigns at the NCDS, said the failure of Channel 4’s planning and “weakness” of its response “leaves us wondering whether accessibility remains a priority”.

He added: “If there was no sound on TV, there would be a national outcry.”

Maia, a deaf 16-year-old from Sussex, said she is “missing vital moments” in Channel 4 shows like the Great British Bake Off.

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“It makes me feel frustrated that I can’t laugh at any of the jokes, let alone understand what is happening,” she said.

Channel 4 said subtitles are being added to some shows like Gogglebox and The Great British Bake Off on its All 4 streaming platform, with new methods of delivering them also being trialled.

After announcing the delay to the restoration of full access, the broadcaster said: “We know that this will be incredibly disappointing to everyone, but we do need to get this right.”

An Ofcom spokesman said Channel 4 “did not have strong back-up measures in place” and “it should not have taken several weeks to provide a clear, public plan and timeline for fixing the problems”.

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The regulator said it has met with the broadcaster to express its concerns and ensure timings for restoring full access are met.

“We will then consider any further action,” Ofcom added.

In a statement, Channel 4 apologised to viewers for not currently being able to provide access services, adding: “We realise how frustrating this is for our viewers and we have been in helpful discussions with RNID [the Royal National Institute for Deaf People] to aid our communications around the issues.”