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BBC breaking the law in respect of See Hear?

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Earlier Jen posted a reply from the BBC in respect of BBC See Hear, and the proposed cut backs. In the comments, I left a copy of an e mail I had sent to the BBC asking the BBC what it was doing in respect of its obligations under the Disability Equality Duty (DED). Why hadn't the BBC consulted about the changes at See Hear?

I had since got a reply, questioning if the DED applied, as it did not include programme making (clause 2.1). In response to this suggestion, here is a rather lengthy e mail that I've sent to the BBC See Hear plus Wilf White (responsible for DED consultation). Apologies in advance for its length.

I would very much appreciate other people's thoughts on this.

"I agree that it looks like programmes are not covered for the purposes of the BBC's public function under the DED. However, digging into this scheme it starts to become interesting. I should say at the outset this is a field unfamiliar to me, and I'm trying to learn as I go along.

Before continuing, I have deliberately not covered subtitling here (and access by hard of hearing people, deaf people who do not sign) because I do not see how it could be applied to the arguments I am about to use below.

BBC's DED public duty & Deaf people

Under the BBC agreement on page 72 of the Disability Equality Scheme (DES), includes this as public function, and thus subject to the DED:

"The following functions of the BBC are public functions for the purpose of this Scheme: ....... Clauses 59-60 Code relating to provision for the deaf and visually impaired and power to modify targets."

The relevant clauses from the code, can be found here on pages 31-33:

And makes reference to the Communications Act 2003, s.303.

The BBC has stated:

"The starting point is that the BBC must, in providing the UK Public Television Services, observe the Code maintained by Ofcom under section 303 of the Communications Act 2003 (referred to in this clause as "the Act")."

The BBC's own Code of Practice (which it explicitly states as a public function, thus would come under the DED), it says it will follow Ofcom. Ofcom's current code is here.

Proposed changes, Ofcom's Code of Practice, and possible implications on BBC's DED

I find it extremely bizarre that the BBC says its going to follow Ofcom's Code and at the same time the BBC initiating a huge change in respect of See Hear, just before Ofcom undertakes a major overhaul access to BSL on television. Ofcom has been suggesting as part of this overhaul, the broadcasting of specialist programmes at convenient times for Deaf BSL users, which is implied by its current consultation here.

"Deaf people told the researchers that most programmes with signing are shown too late at night. They also said that most deaf people who use sign language prefer programmes presented in sign language (like See Hear)."

And it goes onto say:

"They agreed that most deaf people who use sign language would like to see more programmes presented in sign language, even if this meant that there was fewer signed programmes overall. They said that they would prefer that the money spent on adding sign language to programmes made for hearing people was spent on programmes made for deaf people, where the presenters used sign language. ......... They would also like the programmes to be shown at more convenient times."

Yet the BBC is doing the exact opposite! Since when is Wednesday lunchtime convenient for Deaf people, over a Saturday? That's a question that could very well become a public duty one, should Ofcom incorporate it in its impending new code.

If as a result of Ofcom's consultation, it recommends what researchers have found to date, then this is going to be included in Ofcom's Code of Practice. Yet the BBC is doing the exact opposite, and will fail to follow the possible new Ofcom Code of Practice (and in turn failing to comply with its public function / DED). If this scenario arose, the BBC could possibly be accused of wasting public resources (by having to change back / format again, to comply with legal obligation) through a obvious lack of long term planning.

Parliament's intention that BSL provision applies to Deaf people

Ofcom's code is supposed to be in relation to Deaf people and their access to BSL on television, this was the intention of parliament. The Communications Act 2003 expressly states this:

"..... (a) the extent to which the services to which this section applies should promote the understanding and enjoyment by-

(i) persons who are deaf or hard of hearing ,

......

(b) the means by which such understanding and enjoyment should be promoted."

That Act, and in turn Ofcom's Code of Practice, is not about hearing people learning or interested in BSL, as stated in the BBC's response in relation to See Hear:

"we have become much more aware of the wider world, and deaf and hearing are merging together .... meet and attract a wider audience".

Whilst it could be argued that legislation is purely about Deaf people being able to access information in BSL, Ofcom's Code of Practice looks like it is about to change, with potential compromises being made. E.g. specialist programmes for Deaf people, to meet the sign language component.

The BBC is actually detracting away from BSL users who are Deaf, towards wider audience figures / targeting BSL at hearing people, and not what parliament intended when passing the Communications Act 2003.

Funding

It is stated:

"All programmes within the BBC are experiencing budgetary cuts, and See Hear is no exception. We believe, after much thought, that the best way to maintain the quality of the show and still be able to make 38 programmes a year is to reduce the length of the programme to 30 minutes."

Why is the BBC making both budget and time cutbacks for a BSL programme, and treating it on par with a single programme in English output? Policy (via Ofcom) is moving towards investment in dedicated BSL programmes, and the BBC goes in the opposite direction here, by making cutbacks! Since the BBC only produces a single dedicated BSL programme, how can it even begin to treat this the same as a single English programme? There are many English based programmes, and output expanding thus money is spread out across board. Whilst the BBC might be moving into expansion of English output: digital television, iPlayer etc, how much of this will be BSL based? Currently (with the exception of some interpreted programmes in the middle of the night) none.

It is not fair to subject BSL to exactly the same cutbacks, when there is no intention to produce dedicated BSL programmes elsewhere. This is unfairly discriminating against Deaf people. The BBC's DES on page 6 which states:

"To take steps to take account of disabled persons' disabilities, even where that involves treating disabled persons more favourably than other persons"

Where is the favourable treatment here, and taking into account the needs of people with disabilities (in this case Deaf)? BSL output on television is a public duty, yet all I can see is several steps backwards. Again, since this is around BSL output, I would like to know what evidence there is of consultation, and adherence to Ofcom's Code of Practice (and future ones).

The need for a review

I would very much like to see the BBC's response to the above, and how it regards its public function in respect of BSL. Also, how it intends to respond to Ofcom's proposed changes for dedicated programmes for Deaf people in BSL, and they plan to implement this into its working practices. Again, what consultation has the BBC undertaken to date or planning to take, in respect of all the above (as genuine consultation, not an after thought)."

See also:
See Hear replies ...
Open Letter re See Hear in Broadcast Now
Save See Hear
Ofcom fails its own Disability Equality Scheme?

Comments (1)

I can see where you are coming from with this but have you considered a different aspect of the D.E.D which requires public bodies to exert their considerable influence in the community at large, part of the general duty. The BBC could have a major influence on the attitude of the general public to the disabled if it took on the full responsibility of what the D.E.D. requires of it.

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