British free-to-air public-service television network Channel 4 has been without captioning since a fire suppressant system at a London broadcast centre destroyed hard disks on September 25.
The channel’s captioning, signing, and audio description services are unlikely to return until mid-November, according to the provider, almost two months after the outage. This has left many viewers, especially those who are deaf and hard of hearing, who rely on captioning, without accessible media.
On September 25, a fire suppressant system at a London broadcast centre owned by Red Bee Media destroyed hard disks. Then the emergency back-up system failed, leaving viewers were left without essential captioning, signing, and audio description services.
A spokesperson for the London Fire Brigade said, “Firefighters were called to reports a gas suppression system had activated at a building on Wood Lane in White City on Saturday 25th September. The suppression system had activated in a server room and on-site engineers worked to ventilate the room. Firefighters carried out a search of the building and a sweep of the room but found no fire apparent.”
The incident temporarily took Channel 4 and Channel 5off air completely. It led to transmission problems for days after. The BBC was also affected. But the BBC, along with Channel 5, has since restored its accessibility services.
Red Bee Media is a global media services company with bases across Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and North America. Red Bee dates back to 2002 when BBC Broadcast Limited was created as a subsidiary of the BBC. The company was sold to Creative Broadcast Services Holdings in Australia in 2005. At that time, it was renamed Red Bee Media. Ericsson acquired the business in 2014 and still owns it today.
In an update published on October 19, Channel 4 said it “would like to apologize to viewers for not currently being able to provide access services.” An update a couple days later said these services were irretrievably lost during the incident. They won’t be restored until they move to the new system that’s being built.”
It added: “We cannot rush this and run the risk of something going wrong. Something like this needs to be installed slowly to ensure our channels don’t come off air and to prevent something like this happening again.”
The Good news: As of October 26, some of Channel 4’s flagship shows have now regained captions.
The broadcaster has committed to provide captions on the online catch-up service, All4 from this week. They said, however, that they were unable to provide audio description or sign language services.
What’s unclear is why Channel 4 hasn’t gone to another company or why Red Bee’s offices outside London can’t take on the work.
In the UK, people who have hearing loss have taken to social media to raise awareness of how excluded they have felt because of the lack of captioning and signing services. In addition to missing out on Channel 4 News, popular shows like teen soap opera Hollyoaks aren’t accessible.
An Ofcom spokesperson said, “We remain extremely concerned by the impact on people who rely on these services. Channel 4 did not have strong backup measures in place, and it should not have taken several weeks to provide a clear, public plan and timeline for fixing the problems. We now expect Channel 4 to meet the timings it has set for restoring these vital services.”
On Tuesday November 2, the live Twitter chat, #HearingLossHour will be focusing on the topic, “What captions mean to me.” HearingLossHour is a community initiative supported by Hearing Like Me.
Twelve million people in the UK with hearing loss have been affected by this outage. We are also affected by the lack of captions available for shows on a range of other platforms including Channel 5, HGTV, and Amazon Prime, where movies available in the UK may not have captions, but the same movies are available in the U.S. on Prime, with captions.
“Twelve million people in the UK with hearing loss have been affected by this outage.”
November’s #HearingLossHour is a time to discuss the importance of captions and to raise awareness of the issue of the exclusion we experience when captions are not available. We’ll also be inviting participants to share their favourite captioned shows. To take part in the discussion, join @hearinglosshour on Twitter at 1pm (UK time) on Tuesday November 2, and add #HearingLossHour to your tweets.
Phonak hEARo, Angie is a freelance journalist and content writer. Angie was diagnosed with Otosclerosis in her right ear at the age of 30. In 2011, she suffered sudden profound hearing loss in her left ear. She uses a Phonak CROS II with a Phonak Audéo V hearing aid. You can follow Angie on Twitter @hearinglosshour and join in #HearingLossHour on the first Tuesday of the month.
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