« BBC Access 2.0: Interview with Charlie Swinbourne | Main | Glow in the Dark Gloves »

Ofcom's response to a formal complaint around lack of BSL consultation

ofcom_logo.gifOfcom has been carrying out a consultation in respect of how BSL is transmitted on television. The consultation is supposed to end this Friday.

I responded to this consultation, and further responses can be found on their website. As a side note, they are not publishing all responses (even though these were submitted one month ago, and permission given from the author). I know Rob and Joe have also responded, why hasn't Ofcom published these? Perhaps it highlights serious flaws which Ofcom is actively avoiding to highlight?

As part of my response, I made a formal complaint against Ofcom in respect of their lack of consultation in BSL. This was a consultation about BSL on television, thus it appeared more than strange that this consultation was delivered only in English. A bit like consulting about the future of S4C (including a reduction in hours), only in English, and not make this consultation available in Welsh.

I have since received a reply from Ofcom, which is below. For ease of reading my initial complaints are highlighted in bold. Ofcom has not responded to all the complaints that I raised, including lack of information around the extension of the consultation date. At the end of this post, I have some initial thoughts on Ofcom's response. Please could you use the comment box to record any thoughts you have on this, as it may influence how I proceed further with this.

In your response to Ofcom’s consultation document on The Future of Signing on Television, you raised a formal complaint against Ofcom, alleging a serious flaw in the consultation process. The substance of your complaint is that you consider that the document should have been produced in BSL, as well as English. As Ofcom’s Consultation Champion, I have considered your complaint, and will comment on each of the points you raise in turn.

1. “By Ofcom's own omission it states:

"some deaf people whose first language is signing can find it difficult to understand subtitles, and so use signing to understand television programmes."

If it acknowledges that, and that English is a barrier for access, then why has it published this consultation only in English?

How can Ofcom even pretend to be consulting with BSL users here, if the information is not available in BSL? It is not enough to say that responses are welcome in BSL, how does Ofcom propose that BSL accessed the consultation material in the first place?”

Ofcom Response:

I do not agree that there is necessarily an inherent contradiction here since subtitles inevitably require an ability to read reasonably quickly, which a published document does not. On this basis, publication in English would not necessarily prejudice those who find it difficult to understand subtitles, as you suggest. Taking into account that the document is available online in a written format, the purpose of translating the document into BSL would be for the benefit of only those consumers who understand BSL but cannot read or as an alternative, those who prefer to communicate solely in BSL – a relatively small minority. However, Ofcom decided to publish a plain English summary of the document for this consultation on account of the community it was aimed at. Moreover, recognising the difficulties of ensuring that deaf people were adequately informed about the debate, Ofcom made significant efforts to ensure that groups representing their interests were consulted from a very early stage, starting with the proposals in 2005 to carry out research into the numbers and experiences of people using access services and culminating in the invitation to form a Sign Language Working Group to develop proposals. The Sign Language Working Group did not ask for its report to be published in BSL, nor did it suggest prior to publication that Ofcom’s consultation document be published in BSL

In considering its duties under the Disability Discrimination Act, due regard requires Ofcom to consider proportionality and relevance. Whilst it would be relevant in relation to this particular consultation to provide a version in BSL, I believe there are grounds for arguing that it is not proportionate to do so on the basis of cost (£19,000), resources (4 weeks work) and the number of people likely to benefit.

2. “Your (Disability Equality) scheme states:


In developing policy that may affect disabled people, Ofcom has a duty to engage and consult with this community."

And as part of your action plan, by 2007 Ofcom is supposed to:

"Review communications networks and services and assess the barriers to access and inclusion, which will include use of services by disabled customers."

This is how Ofcom has said that it will comply with the law, and the fact that it has failed to publish the consultation about and directly affecting BSL users, is a major shortcoming. It is not enough to consult with deaf organisations, who are unrepresentative of us: the Disability Equality Duty lays down an obligation to consult with Deaf (disabled) people themselves.”

Ofcom Response:

Given that deaf people were the primary stakeholders that this consultation was aimed at, Ofcom made significant efforts to meet and consult representative groups. During the period February 2005 to November 2006, Ofcom held 11 meetings with a range of disability groups including the RNID, the Deaf Broadcasting Council, ITV Signpost, the Ofcom Consumer Panel Consumer Forum on Communication (which includes disability group representation) and the British Deaf Association. Efforts were made at the early stage of the process to ensure that this was an informed dialogue, by explaining to deaf groups the perspectives of broadcasters, the constraints of the legislation and by briefing them on the outcome of research before it was published.

These meetings led to the establishment of the Sign Language Working Group, which met to make recommendations to Ofcom on the options for signing. In my view it is not unreasonable for Ofcom to take the view that such groups speak for, and on behalf of, deaf people and this is consistent with Ofcom's practice of consulting with representative stakeholder groups in other areas. I believe there is a good argument that this satisfies our duty to engage with this community although, of course, Ofcom did not do this to the exclusion of seeking views from individual respondents by the formal consultation process.

During all of these meetings, there was never any discussion of the means of publication of the consultation document. The Sign Language Working Group, which conducted its proceedings in sign language, did not suggest a sign language version, but were keen that the consultation proceed in time for decisions to be made that could be implemented from the beginning of 2008, which precluded commissioning a signed version. Their own report was produced in English, and circulated by them to deaf organisations and leading members of the deaf community for comment without any suggestion that a sign language version should be produced. The responses that the Working Group passed to us did not raise the issue.

3. “Within Ofcom's consultation document it states that there has been 'substantive discussions' with interested parties since the access review was published (3.33). Who are these people, and is it just London based? For BSL people to be involved with such consultation, as Ofcom relied on mobility here, and assumed that people can travel to London? It should be noted that London and indeed the SE, is not representative of the UK. Deaf people based in this region are more likely to enjoy higher participation both in society access to a social life and information. Those in other regions, are less likely to have such opportunities, and with it comes a higher incidence of reliance of accessing BSL on television. From personal observation, I have found this to be the case. And indeed do so myself, I'm more inclined to watch BSL on television (and do so every week), simply because of isolation factors, whereas in London this need diminished. Tying this into the point of BSL consultation, I don't think just by holding meetings in London is representative of the UK BSL population as a whole.”

Ofcom Response:

You asked who the people were with whom Ofcom had substantive discussions since the access services review was published. The consultation document explains (paragraph 2.11) that Ofcom received feedback from a variety of sign language users and groups representing their interests, including the British Deaf Association, the Deaf Broadcasting Council and the National Deaf Children’s Association, each of which are organisations with a UK remit. Annex 6 to the consultation documents lists the members of the Sign Language Working Group convened at Ofcom’s suggestion. As well as the organisations listed above, the membership included the Royal Association for Deaf People (an organisation which is based largely in Essex) and the Telecommunications Action Group. As several members were based outside London and the South East, indeed, meetings were arranged later in the day to allow those living further afield to attend. The Sign Language Working Group (whose meetings were conducted largely in BSL) itself took the initiative to consult a wide variety of interested organisations, and some of these are listed in an Appendix to the Working Group’s report published with the consultation paper. They include the Scottish Council on Deafness, the Wales Council for Deaf People, the UK Council on Deafness, the RNID and Becoming Visible, an organisation based in the North East of England. We would therefore expect them to be able to represent the diverse range of views from the deaf community throughout the UK.

I am sorry if this response is disappointing for you. You have raised some useful points which I am reflecting on in terms of advice to colleagues who produce consultation documents and I thank for your interest in our consultation processes.

Yours sincerely

Vicki Nash
Director, Scotland

My initial thoughts (not a formal response):

- BSL users and their access is central to this consultation, thus usual proportionality rules for mainstream consultations cannot apply

If Ofcom was consulting say on e.g. ITV1 and ITV4 Request Ofcom Consent For Rugby World Cup Coverage, then one would expect the cost argument of proportionality and resources to to do so on the basis of cost (£19,000), resources (4 weeks work) and the number of people likely to benefit. However, BSL users and their central access to television is at the heart of this consultation. Does Ofcom use the same argument not to produce materials in Welsh, in Wales especially over consultation in respect of S4C? Perhaps not, since the Welsh Language Act 1993 affords stronger rights.

- Ofcom completely fails to understand that BSL and English are not the same language.

By suggesting that people can take their time to read an English document, does not equate comprehension. Perhaps when operating in Wales, Ofcom should tell Welsh speakers to read all literature in English! Suggest to other public bodies such as the EU only to produce literature in English, drop the French, German, etc. Read it slowly enough and the comprehension will come?!

- The summary was not enough, and missed out key points.

I read both the summary and the full report, and key information was missing from the summary. E.g. I highlighted this in my response:

My main concern here is around quality, and the need to control this, especially since there is a proposed significant drop in signed output on television from 440 hours to 12 hours. This information was not available in the plain English version, and I wonder how many people are happy with this?

Its not enough to produce a summary, if so why doesn't Ofcom just scrap the full consultation for everyone, if the summary is enough? For the record, the summary was too confusing to many people, and I've had no fewer than TEN people ask me what the consultation was about because they could not understand it. Perhaps I should send the bill to Ofcom for services rendered and their complete failure to be accessible?

- The Disability Equality Duty, requires by that public bodies consult with disabled people directly.

Since Deaf BSL users are at the heart of this consultation, then one would expect BSL users to be consulted. The organisations listed very possibly sent along non BSL users to talks with Ofcom, given very few preferred language BSL users hold down such positions relating to policy. Can anyone add further thoughts here? Secondly, speaking with people from organisations is not the same as wider consultation.

- It fails to take into account the needs of Deaf people from the rest of the UK.

London does not equal the rest of the UK, where Deaf people have more opportunities to actually use sign language. Most deaf organisations are based within London, and thus unrepresentative. If you are a BSL user existing, e.g. in mid Wales, your opportunities to gain information in BSL is next to none, and might miss 440 hours of BSL on television. Has anyone asked such a person?

- What was the Sign Language Working Group doing / thinking? Who has the teeth there, and who actually is savvy enough about BSL issues or rights to challenge this?

Do organisations go along with the status quo, or lack of political ability from its staff? Due to the size of the UK, perhaps people have a financial vested interest somewhere, to really say what they are thinking.

I have more thoughts on this matter, and since contacted Ofcom to ask how to send this complaint to an independent body, as personally I think the response was a brush off and fails to take this issue seriously enough. Secondly, I'm of the opinion that Ofcom needs a legal challenge here from a BSL user in respect of this consultation, as its the only way to get public bodies to actually be inclusive and raise the status of BSL.

Does anyone have any comments?

See also:
Ofcom fails its own Disability Equality Scheme?
Ofcom's consultation for signing on television ends today

Comments (14)

Just a tiny tiny tiny error...I've not moved to Rob's website yet, I've not killed him off yet :) Will try to reply with a more thought out comment later

Bad html on my part, which didn't include Rob's link. Left out a ", now corrected.

I am amazed that not one of the organisation voiced (or signed if that is applicable) objection to the fact that BSL output is going to be significantly reduced with Ofcom' blessing. I would like see deeper transparency during their consultations with these organisations i.e. have the minutes made available.

Another perspective is that, of the 11 consultation meetings, access to the consultating process is made possible by Access to Work who paid for the interpreters. From the outset, access to consultations is non existent and exclusive to these people present at high level meetings. The barrier is there. The plain english version might be good enough for me but it does not equates access for all stakeholders concerned as not all have acquired English fully, if not at all - a skill required for comprehension of reading plain english in a slow manner.

Again, it all comes down to money, which make me queasy as TV industry is awash with them and Ofcom is letting them off lightly.

What do you think of the idea that TV comanies/channels chip in towards a dedicated Deaf program on Community Channel? It is not dissimiliar to the TTY relay service in USA where telecomms companies contribute towards the running costs of such service. I am all for a flagship program but I am worried that it will let the other companies and channels off the hook where Deaf output are concerned.

The fact that there is going to be a reduction in hours from 440 hours to 12 hours was NOT included in the plain English version. This is enough to say that Ofcom has not consulted properly on this matter, including the fact the information was not available in BSL.

@ Tony B, I agree with you re transparency. I too would like to see organisations blogging, and furthermore putting minutes of meetings online available to all. Having information behind closed doors is in the favour of many organisations ... it helps them keep control, or perhaps justify why they are there.

I want proper communication and conversation, not some dry PR which I will never believe, nor can take seriously.

Organisations please go ahead and prove me wrong!

How convienence r.e. the omission of BSL output's reduction in the plain English version!!

If transparency existed, it will improve access to the core issues for the interested parties to address before it is too late. I.e. did these organisations ask their members what they would like in the future of television? Also, will improve the perception of how these organisation functions i.e. accountability. We can do without the siege mentality of these organisations when we all meant to be striving towards fairer, equal and just society.

"Plain English" - I presume the document was vetted by the Plain English Campaign or the Plain Language Commission (whatever its called)? If so, I wrote public documents which were vetted by these organisations. Now, some of it was better revised, but in parts where details are needed; it was more difficult to understand, and at worst, misleading (omission of key words/sentences).

I think it would be interesting to see what the "stakeholders" have said to Ofcom, and the fact that these organisations only published in written English at the time, it already excluded those who are BSL only. Furthermore, how was this(these) working group(s) conducted? What was covered?

Ofcom is assuming that those with only BSL is able to grapple a lengthy and detailed English document in its entirety and fully comprehend it. When I read something in another language, I could not understand paragraphs, even when the context is set.

By Ofcom's own admission, they think (I don't know if it's factually correct) that BSL only people have a greater difficulty in following subtitles. Does this not then highlight the need for more BSL rather than less?

"there is a proposed significant drop in signed output on television from 440 hours per month to 12 hours."

Where in the full Ofcom report does it actually state this?

2.3 (page 7) - 440 hours, for less 1% audience share (current arrangements).

10c (page 41) - alternative arrangements. i.e. work up to 60 minutes a month, 12 months x 60 mins = 12 hours per year.

At least that's where I think I got it from - its a long time since I read this consultation / responded.

Took all that waffle to say something that could be said in a sentence.

So, am I to I take it that the "statement" about the reduction in signed output from 440 to 12 hours isn't to be found in the full Ofcom report after all (despite your citing it as a "key point") but something based almost entirely on your own calculations?

Incidentally I think the upper figure you should have been using is not 440 hours but 175 hours - see para 2.3. The former is only a target figure that's not actually required to be met until some time after 2009 (see para 2.3 again) ; 175 hours of signed programmes a year is the actual current requirement. [NB. it's 440 hours per year, not "per month" as you originally stated]

"- The Disability Equality Duty, requires by that public bodies consult with disabled people directly.

Since Deaf BSL users are at the heart of this consultation, then one would expect BSL users to be consulted. The organisations listed very possibly sent along non BSL users to talks with Ofcom, given very few preferred language BSL users hold down such positions relating to policy. "

Did you not notice the list (and names) of the members of the "Sign/Community Channel Working Group" in Annex 6 of the full Ofcom report (starting p.38)?

"- The Disability Equality Duty, requires by that public bodies consult with disabled people directly."

The DED doesn't merely require that public bodies consult with disabled people ; it requires that they INVOLVE disabled people in their decision-making processes where appropriate. Involvement is not the same as consultation; it's considerably more than that. As the DRC say in their DED guidance booklet ( http://www.drc.org.uk/PDF/DED_involvement_guidance_focus27.pdf ) :-

"[Involvement] is a deeper process than simply consulting
people on their opinions or needs. The involvement required will, for
example, be more than just asking a group of disabled people their opinion
of the Disability Equality Scheme. Of course public authorities will
want to consult with disabled people as part of general consultation
processes.... Involvement is, however, a deeper
process and will involve active and continuous engagement
with disabled people over a period of time."

Are you seriously disagreeing that Ofcom has in fact done this by setting up and working with the Sign/Community Channel Working Group?

Thanks for pulling me up on this re per month / channel, which should read a year.

(My mistake was around lack of time to respond to the consultation, thus did not proof read. I responded by the first date given, and a failure on Ofcom's part not to publicise the consultation extension. It did not put this information on its website, and confined this information to DUK (not everyone is a member)).

However, since these are times *per channel*, the difference in hours will add up when you take into account all

Your statement:

So, am I to I take it that the "statement" about the reduction in signed output from 440 to 12 hours isn't to be found in the full Ofcom report after all (despite your citing it as a "key point") but something based almost entirely on your own calculations?

Uh? The information is to be found there, and in two paragraphs (as already quoted). The information was not made up by me, the only thing that is lacking .... its not available in plain English, even within the long winded document. This is a key point, and what this consultation is about. In practice, this is what is going to happen ... and its outputs (even ones that include quality), is what is measurable at the end of the day.

The fact that you can't see such a statement in black and white on the front page, is a testament to a badly written document. A key reality of what is about to happen in practice is not stated in the plain English version.

I took the end timescales, because those are the outputs that is being worked towards; what is set for the long term. I could be completely anal about this and give outputs for each consecutive year, but one needs to get to the point. The end result / aim / final destination is the best place for this.

Re DED - I could make more points than above, however, I was trying to keep a complex subject as simple as possible here .... and driving home the point of the importance of consultation.

If we are going to get specific about the DED, one of its functions is a positive image of disabled people. Perhaps one could argue in this respect that encouraging a higher output of sign interpretation = portrayal of people needing terps, thus better than a substantial reduction in signed television. Surely the latter is bad news under this DED objective, and one could easily turn this into an argument of a failure to meet this objective.

(Not suggesting this is the way it should be argued, just highlighting the point re why I did not say everything, otherwise one would never get to the point).

Re composition of the working party. I don't see those names as representative of people who watch television over the UK. There is a huge difference between those involved in the production or have a vested interest in signed programmes, and a general target audience. I want to see what your average street Deafie thinks, including outside London. The same names keep coming up.

Your average person could very well agree with the proposals, and so be it if they do. That is not the point I'm getting @ above.

The establishment of that Working Group is not the same as consultation with your average Joe who watches TV. What it has done has quite possibly involved a disproportionate number of *vested interest* stakeholders. I do not see conflict of interests declared anywhere in that document, e.g. business interests. Thus it is not transparent as it could be.

I am not suggesting the people who were involved with this don't have good intentions, and I want to make it clear that I am *not* knocking effort here. However its not good enough and should not be an excuse not to consult more widely AND make this consultation accessible in BSL.

Involving certain stakeholders does not go far enough and with this there needs to be a self awareness, or perhaps stepping back from the process ... and the recognition that the intended audience needs to be at the heart of this.

I am not suggesting *on a personal note* that the proposals are not a good move (see my response), I just would feel a lot happier if a *BSL audience* was consulted properly. The drop in the number of hours is significant, and this is likely to have a higher impact those living in rural areas.

On a related note, if BSL consultation (in the form of a document) does not suit your audience or you get a poor response, go out into the field. Adjust your methodology to suit your target group.

A handful of these members, which form the SL Working Group, are saying they have consulted with the BSL users at grass roots. However, last nite, I could not find any evidence of surveys or Q&As, relating to this consultation process, being extended at that level. But I am looking on the internet in where the data might not be published and widely available - or I am looking in the wrong place. Nonetheless, info used should all be there for transparency's sake.

Only NDCS stick out for having their survey downloadable from their website and it made for interesting reading. Same goes for the Ofcom's statistical research report. It was quite a revelation that approx 1 million people have ever used signing on telly - deaf or not. But I beg the question, do they use it regularly? Some members brought data to the meetings but it doesn't state what they are or even refer to a source.

From reading the recommendations from SLWG (Sign Language Working Group), I am pleased to witness that they are mostly good although some recommendations seemed to heavily aligned towards the creation of a flagship Deaf program on Communtiy Channel. Is that what you means by vested interest?

@ Tony B - thanks for this information, its useful to know. Such groups really should blog / vlog their processes, and enter into a conversation, this way we get what they're up to. Too much happens behind closed doors.

Vested interest - means you have an interest e.g. financial or business one, in something. A self interest, and because of this, decisions can be influenced. (Side note - this is why some bloggers carry a disclosure statement, in the interests of transparency).

BDA - didn't they at the time want to set up a sign language channel? (Might still do).
AC2 - production company, including multimedia.
Remark! - production company.
Bob - independent producer
Lesley - producer / has associations with VeeTV

All those people could be said have a financial interest in producing such programmes, thus there could be seen to have an element of bias there. i.e. they could be influenced in the decision making process which is favourable for their company?

I am not questioning the integrity of these people, and do believe they set out to make decisions in the best interests of BSL users at the core / their work is based on this. A lot of the people listed are good people, word really hard and I am grateful for the work they put in.

The point I'm trying to get at here is administrative law there is such a thing as bias. Yes there's more independent people on that working group, but since Ofcom is basically a public body it is subjected to transparency. People are human, and there's things that influence what they say ... me included.

Sure Ofcom's report states these people are producers, which goes some way to counteracting transparency but stops short of listing business interests, i.e. production of Deaf programmes.

BBC - gave feedback and I'm sure this was valuable. However, on a pure transparency basis wise one has to question impartiality. The BBC will no longer produces Deaf programmes in the traditional sense, and will be shifting this towards mid week for a wider appeal. Could it be argued because of this decision, the BBC is keen to deflect responsibilities for a BSL audience onto other channels, to get them off the hook a bit? I am not suggesting this is the intention, or it is happening. However, being aware of processes that can influence decision making processes or advice.

Sure there's more independent people on that panel, but ratio wise? I also see a heavy concentration London wise. Having lived in London, what people think there sometimes quite different to the rest of the UK. e.g. take Charlie Swinbourne's comments on the fact he could live without the internet. My thinking is quite possibly the fact he lives in London influences this. Could the same be for signed tv? You are less likely to watch if live in London, but more likely to watch if live outside?

The bottom line here: consulting the above people doesn't necessarily reflect the audience. They very well might say the same thing, but lets prove it.

Other thing Tony B. Why should groups consult with its members? Did Ofcom pay them to do this, or did they do it for free ... and basically get Ofcom off the hook? I want Ofcom to honour its responsibilities, and do so directly. Sure you could find the consultation on its website, but the BSL version?

The issue with groups, is you need to be a member. If Ofcom undertakes a consultation with hearing people, they don't need to pay some Hearing Society to be informed / be aware of the content of this consultation, they just access it on the web. Deafies?

Just some passing thoughts.

New Here?

Hello! We're UK based, more about GOD.

This page only has one post (posted on July 25, 2007 11:13 AM). For more visit the main page.

Don't miss new content, subscribe to our feed.

  feed.png   Posts Feed
  feed.png   Comments Feed

[Don't know what RSS is? Watch this subtitled video.]

Paying the Host Bill

Creative Commons License

Usually the content of this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence, unless specified otherwise.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.33