Guest blogger: An easy win for Hubie the Love Bug

Sent to us by Joe Clark.

I’m going to accept – officially, at least – that the sitting president of the CBC really is reading its most famous external blog. Hubert Lacroix seems to be new to the idea of open communication, where people say what they actually think, sometimes including jurons or swear words. Hubert wants to impose a peace/love/understanding style of communication, but that’s not gonna cut it at a place like the CBC. (The president would prefer it if love were all around, which is why my affectionate diminutive for him is Hubie the Love Bug. Can I not say that either?)

I’ll leave it to other writers to impress upon Hubie that the fate of Intelligence is a bellwether, make-or-break decision that will solidify or permanently alienate a core CBC viewer base – people with intelligence. Others will explain just how dreadful the new shows really are, including The Border and JPod (whose capitalization CBC couldn’t even get right). A few others may be brave enough to call for the cancellation of a half-dozen soporific radio shows, like the entire Sunday lineup. Certainly there will be much discussion of the closure and sale of CBC assets.

I’ll leave that to everybody else. I have come to Tea Makers riding my hobby horse, CBC accessibility. I’m going to give Hubie a point-form summation of the mess CBC is in. (He could glean the same information, and much more, if he read my extensive Web pages, but let’s assume he’s pressed for time.)

  • CBC has to caption every second of its broadcasts on CBC Television and Newsworld because CBC lost a human-rights complaint. Starting in November 2002, CBC claimed to comply with that decision, but everything isn’t being captioned. (The first 14 minutes of Monday night’s CBC News at Six had no captions at all, for example.) I’ve been taking notes. The situation is much improved, but there are still periods with no captioning.
  • After I published my notes, I was taken seriously at first. CBC conceded all my points about missing captioning but sounded defensive and angry on other points. (I later told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that CBC has only two ways of responding to criticism – they flinch immediately or they act like rat bastards. This is the rat-bastard case, and I’m sorry, Hubie, that is le mot juste.) CBC just hates having its deficiencies pointed out. CBC staff have been directly nasty to me for years on this topic.
  • CBC claimed that subtitled movies don’t need to be captioned (even though sound effects are never subtitled), that scrollup captioning was just fine for dramas and comedies, and that real-time captioning really could be used for programs that aren’t live (like 30-year-old Grey Cup matches). Those are all failures, and they’re still happening today. (Except CBC added a new kind of failure – using Teleprompter captioning for nighttime weather reports inserted into normal programming. The CRTC banned Teleprompter captioning for live shows in 1995; why is it being used here?)
  • I got paid to get an online-captioning project up and running in 2002, at next to no cost. It was shut down with no notice some years later, and all the old captioned videos were taken offline. CBC was a leader until it decided it didn’t need to be.
  • There’s still a lot of CBC online video and all of it is uncaptioned. I know CBC is working on a BBC-style player application for online viewing. Even after I gave developers advice and warnings, I’m quite sure none of that online programming is going to be captioned. That’s another human-rights complaint right there. Care to guess how that one will turn out?

If two of CBC’s television networks have to caption everything because it is the only way to accommodate deaf viewers, why do the other CBC television networks, including the French stations, not have to caption everything? (French broadcasters, including the CBC, have lied for nearly 30 years straight about the difficulty or impossibility of captioning in French. That horse won’t hunt anymore.)

Despite a recent claim to the contrary, CBC has no requirement to air audio-described programming for blind viewers. It airs some anyway. Except it mostly uses a lousy service provider, and audio-described shows are never advertised as such. A blind viewer is never told up front that a show is available with description. But wait – CBC used to do that in its classy hosted-prime segments, something else shitcanned by executives.

Now let’s talk quality. A lot of CBC captioning sucks. A lot of captioning sucks, period. I’m trying to get an independent, nonprofit research project off the ground to research and write standards for captioning (and audio description and a few other things). Although a former mid-level manager wrote me a support letter, CBC has completely ignored me and my project. But they have signed on to a secret industry cabal run by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, an organization that, by definition, doesn’t represent CBC.

The details of how this secret cabal is going to completely screw up captioning I leave for another day. (A previous cabal screwed it up already. The fox is guarding the henhouse, and all the hens are disabled.) I’m just saying that the biggest public broadcaster in the country shouldn’t be acting like a tobacco lobbyist and ginning up standards behind closed doors, particularly since the CBC staff involved have no demonstrated knowledge of captioning, linguistics, writing, standards development, or any other relevant field. Besides, I know how much real standards cost to develop and test, and CBC ain’t got that kind of money.

So lemme ask the same question I’ve been asking for years: If CBC can’t maintain 100% accessibility, who can? If a public broadcaster cannot maintain a legal requirement to provide 100% captioning, what hope do we have for 100% captioning anywhere? Why would private broadcasters, who will do anything to save a penny even while they spend billions buying each other out, put in any extra effort to attain 100% captioning? What hope do we have for audio description for the blind on most, or all, programming? Why should I keep up hope for a rational, well-tested set of standards for captioning and audio description?

If people on the sixth floor are questioned about any of this, does spittle appear at the edges of their mouths upon hearing my name, and do they angrily insist that all of the above is bullshit? Newsflash: It isn’t. But, as elsewhere with the CBC, you have to leave the building to hear the truth.

Getting the whole problem of accessibility right could be an easy win for Hubie the Love Bug. But his staff would have to quit being rat bastards about it.


  1. Anonymous
    Posted April 26, 2008 at 1:14 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “ and got Joe Clark to head up the whole thing, or at least serve as a high-level adviser to the bilingual head?”

    Dear God, no! It’s one thing to twitter and nag endlessly about captioning issues on a website not taken seriously by broadcasts, but quite another entirely to actually have a God complex that believes it can just walk into an organisation like the CBC and head a department!

    You kind of have to work your way up in these things – and that doesn’t mean unpaid caption watching, however long it might have been.

    The people who run the captioning industries worked their way up through jobs inside it – not from the outside looking in.

    Remember, you can’t blanket label everyone who works in CBC (or wider) captioning by saying it’s “all poor quality”. It isn’t. And I believe the CBC are trying hard. Maybe they will match the UK’s success where 100% of all material for BBC1 and BBC2, even promos, are now captioned on teletext.

    I don’t doubt Joe’s good intentions in this regard, but he rattles so many cages, no one is ever going to want to work with him on captioning, anywhere.

  2. joeclark
    Posted February 20, 2008 at 1:39 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I (again) appreciate the sentiment. But!

    What if the CBC moved its captioning into a separate, bilingual unit CBC Captioning/SRC Sous-titrage

    The first problem is that captioning is decentralized. Every office that produces programming, no matter how brief, for CBC Television and Newsworld has to produce captioned programming (or send it to Toronto not practicable for quickie news updates). Other CBC channels have captioning requirements below 100%, but they still have to do it.

    Also, while Francophones would immediately see the logic in centralizing English captioning in Montreal, because Francophones speak English just fine as far as theyre concerned, they would scream bloody murder at centralizing French captioning in Toronto.

    and got Joe Clark to head up the whole thing, or at least serve as a high-level adviser to the bilingual head?

    I have considered this on many occasions. It isnt just captioning everything the corporation puts out that isnt a paper document or a building has implications here. The only way it would work would be for me to be at the same level in the org chart as the two existing managers, who are wary of me at best.

    there is some cost recovery to be had by providing this service not only internally to the CBC, but publicly to other broadcasters (and Webcasters) looking for such a service, too.

    Ive been told to my face that captioning for outside organizations makes CBC nervous. This is nonsense, of course, as the in-house departments caption out-of-house programming all the time. Maybe they really meant commercials.

    The last time something like this happened merely something like this Red Bee swooped in and bought up the Australian Caption Centre and various British captioning operations. (Or, if you go back to the 1990s, Alliance Atlantis captioned some outside programs. You can see their super-high-quality work on the overnight repeats of Earth: Final Conflict in Showcase.)

  3. Anonymous
    Posted February 19, 2008 at 8:39 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    What if the CBC moved its captioning into a separate, bilingual unit — CBC Captioning / SRC Sous-titrage — and got Joe Clark to head up the whole thing, or at least serve as a high-level adviser to the bilingual head?

    I say this because, from reading this post, it seems to me that (1) knowing what to caption and how to caption it well is a not-insignificant expertise, and (2) there is some cost recovery to be had by providing this service not only internally to the CBC, but publicly to other broadcasters (and Webcasters) looking for such a service, too.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 7:22 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece
  5. joeclark
    Posted February 12, 2008 at 10:44 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I admire the sentiment, Allan, but lets not shame them. Lets just get them to stop being rat bastards.

    Oh, and caption the damned shows.

  6. Allan
    Posted February 12, 2008 at 7:23 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    How can the CBC ignore someone who’s so passionate and dedicated to a critical service.
    Bravo, Joe.
    Shame on CBC.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted February 12, 2008 at 11:26 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It beats Saturday anyway (with the exception of the aged and exhausted “The Vinyl Cafe”).

  8. Anonymous
    Posted February 12, 2008 at 8:53 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I like the Sunday radio lineup… well, until 4 anyway.

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