Labor makes major audio description commitment

06 May 2019

Vision Australia has welcomed the Labor Party's commitment to introducing audio description on the ABC and SBS through an election commitment to increase funding the two public broadcasters.

In a joint statement over the weekend, Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers Carol Brown and Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland announced that a Labor government would provide $4 million to the ABC and SBS to upgrade their systems and processes to deliver 14 hours of audio described TV content per week, starting in 2019-20.

“Australia is the only English-speaking country in the OECD yet to provide audio description – an additional feature that describes the visual elements happening on screen that sighted people take for granted. This is shameful,” the statement said.

“Australians living with blindness or low vision should have equal access to television, and our national broadcasters should lead the way in delivering audio description in Australia.”

Chris Edwards, Vision Australia manager government relations and advocacy, said Labor’s commitment to audio description is a welcome one.

“TV is one of the cultural cornerstones in today’s society and without audio description, a large part of the blind and low vision community are prevented from fully participating in that,” Chris said.

“Audio description would allow people like myself to enjoy TV independently or equally alongside my friends and family, as well as join the discussions that occur in workplaces and other social settings every day.

“It’s unacceptable that Australia falls so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to audio description and hopefully this commitment by Labor is the start of a concrete path to audio description across TV in Australia.”

While the initial funding is only for the ABC and SBS, Labor also said it will work with the wider broadcast industry to work towards audio description being implemented across commercial and subscription services and is willing to make it a legal requirement if necessary.

“A Shorten Labor Government will work constructively with the wider broadcast industry to develop a framework and timetable for the implementation of audio description by commercial and subscription services.

“Labor supported licence fee relief for commercial broadcasters in 2017 stating how important it is that Australians reap a return on the use of the radio frequency spectrum – a valuable public asset – including blind and low vision Australians who need audio description.

“In accordance with the co-regulatory system of broadcast regulation, and in the event the framework and timetable is not satisfactorily implemented, Labor will move to legislate for audio description.”

In 2012, audio description was trialled on the ABC1 under the then Labor government. The current Liberal government then ran its own trial on the ABC’s iView streaming service across 2015-16.

A report from the iView trial was released in 2018, but provided no pathway for audio description to be introduced to Australian free-to-air TV.

In February this year, Minister for Communications and the Arts Mitch Fifield told a Senate Estimates Hearing he would write to Australian broadcasters to ask about their plans for audio description.