The FCC risks busting newsroom budgets at medium-sized and smaller stations, forcing staff reductions and even bringing about the elimination of some local news programming if it applies the same rules requiring real-time closed captioning of news for stations in the top 25 markets to the rest of the industry, according to the RTNDA.
In comments filed Nov. 10 responding to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Radio-Television News Directors Association told the commission that it costs about $150 per hour to provide real-time closed captioning of news programs. That translates into no less than $100,000 annually in additional expenses for stations in small to medium-sized markets.
The association filing contended that to date most stations in larger markets that provide real-time closed captioning have had a difficult time finding sponsors for the service and that grants to cover the cost expire. As a result, paying for real-time captioning will come directly from newsroom budgets and hit smaller and medium-sized stations hardest. The result is likely to be fewer news staff, less coverage and possibly fewer news programs, the filing said.
Additionally, there remains a shortage of real-time closed caption operators, making any new, potential rule requiring stations below the top 25-market threshold to provide the service difficult to fulfill, according to the association.
One possible solution may be voice recognition technology that would automatically convert the audio portion of live news programming into closed captions. However, the association told the commission that such technology has not yet developed to the point where it would be appropriate for use in news programming.
The association told the commission that it should maintain its current rules requiring Electronic Newsroom Technique (ENT), in which teleprompter text is automatically converted to closed captions, for smaller stations. While it acknowledged the limitations of ENT — particularly during unscripted interviews, the association contended “its use does not render local news programming virtually inaccessible to the deaf and hearing impaired.” Non-scripted elements can be communicated through other means, including graphics and crawls, the filing said.
The association also asked the FCC to clarify that providing the hearing impaired with accessible information, while imperative, “should not obstruct the larger objective of providing as much information as quickly as possible” to the public in times of emergencies, such as severe weather.
“Where stations demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to localism, public service and their communities at great expense and personal risk to members of their staffs, the FCC must accord those stations some flexibility, and evaluate complaints that they have violated the Rule in the context of their efforts as well as the difficulties they may have encountered,” the filing said.
To read the filing, visit www.rtnda.org/foi/captioncomments.pdf.