- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A group that represents workers who provide closed-captioning services for broadcasters is urging the House to pass an industry training bill, saying it is needed to help fill a severe shortage of workers in the field.

Roughly 400 “real time reporters” provide captioning for television newscasts and other live programming, said officials the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), which represents captioners.

Association officials said many more are needed to meet a key deadline in a 1996 law that requires all television programming to be closed-captioned by January.

About 28 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“They deserve the same access to news and information on television as everyone,” said Mark Golden, the NCRA’s executive director and chief executive officer.

In July, the Senate passed a bill that would provide $80 million over the next four years to recruit and train captioners at community colleges and other schools.

The bill is poised to go before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next week.

“When deaf and hard of hearing viewers don’t have access to closed-captioning, it’s not just an inconvenience, it puts them at risk,” said Mr. Golden, citing as an example this week’s TV news coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

In May, the Federal Communications Commission proposed fines against three local TV stations for failing to provide adequate captioning during a May 2004 tornado watch.

The FCC proposed $16,000 fines each against NBC station WRC-TV (Channel 4) and Fox station WTTG-TV (Channel 5), and an $8,000 fine against WJLA-TV (Channel 7), the local ABC affiliate.

WRC and WTTG each failed to provide closed-captioning during two weather alerts they aired that evening, while WJLA failed to provide the service once that night, FCC investigators concluded.

‘Married’ dispute

An investigation by Internet blogger Jeff Jarvis, cited in last week’s column, found the FCC received 90 complaints written by 23 persons about racy bachelor and bachelorette party segments on the 2003 Fox show “Married by America.”

Mr. Jarvis’ investigation concluded that all but two of those 23 used identical form letters issued by the Parents Television Council (PTC), meaning the FCC received just three distinct complaints.

Last week, a PTC spokeswoman responded to the column’s suggestion that the number of complaints to the FCC was overstated. She countered that PTC members filed 4,073 complaints about the show, and called on the FCC to explain its accounting practices.

An FCC spokeswoman did not return phone calls.

“My complaint is that only three people bothered to sit down and write letters,” Mr. Jarvis, whose blog can be found at www.buzzmachine.com, wrote in an e-mail.

“If numbers did matter, even the PTC’s highest number would be dwarfed by the millions who watched the show and did not complain. So [whose] community standards are supposedly being upheld?” Mr. Jarvis wrote.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to [email protected]

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