10th of May, the Culture committee of the European Parliament adopted its report on the revision of the audio-visual media services (AVMS) directive.
The first directive was adopted in 2010 and the objective of the revision is to bring it in line with new market realities. While the directive deals with many aspects with regards to audio-visual media services, its article 7 on the topic of accessibility is of major importance for the deaf community in Europe, as the adoption of a strong directive will oblige the Member states to adopt new binding laws improving the situation of media accessibility in their country.
In cooperation with the European Disability Forum, EUD has undertaken advocacy work for months to improve this article, with the objective of including an obligation for broadcasters to make their audio-visual media services more accessible for deaf persons through the provision of subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing and sign language interpretation.
Now, the Culture committee that is responsible within the European Parliament for the negotiations on this topic has adopted its report.
We appreciate that the committee has indeed included an obligation for broadcasters to ensure that their services are “made continuously and progressively more accessible to persons with disabilities”. This is a big step forward from the previous version of the article that only contained an encouragement for broadcasters to make their services accessible for persons with disabilities – which has proven insufficient to create real change.
However, the current version of the article leaves it up to the broadcasters to develop these measures “in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including media service providers and organisations of persons with disabilities” at national level. While we strongly support the inclusion of organisations of persons with disabilities in the negotiations for the development of these measures, we regret that the Culture committee has decided to not set concrete European level accessibility targets, favouring interests of the broadcasting industry over the interests of the disability community. EUD has been advocating for such targets, meaning concrete percentages by which accessibility of media services would have to increase in regular time intervals, potentially starting from a Europe-wide level of accessibility through the setting of a percentage of accessibility to be reached after a certain deadline. As an example, the national communications regulator in the United Kingdom (Ofcom) established concrete accessibility percentages for the different access services – such as subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing and sign language interpretation – that broadcasters need to meet from the day of entry into force of British national legislation. It furthermore also set compulsory percentages by which the number of accessible programmes per access service needs to increase every year. We regret that the report leaves the amount of progress fully to broadcasters at national level and does not set any harmonised European objectives in this regard.
Furthermore, we regret that the concrete access services in question – subtitles and sign language interpretation for deaf and hard of hearing persons as well as audio-description and spoken subtitles for blind and visually impaired persons – have not been included in the binding part of the text, but are only mentioned in the non-binding one, giving the text less strength.
Finally, we are dissapointed that the Culture committee has invoked a rule allowing it to enter in negotiations with the Council before the adoption of the report by the plenary session of the European Parliament. This prevents EUD to do its advocacy work towards the full European Parliament asking it to adopt a strong draft directive that would set the tone for larger negotiations with the Council.
Nevertheless, EUD will continue collaborating with the European Disability Forum on future advocacy actions attempting to improve the current version of the directive to ensure improved media accessibility for deaf persons across Europe.
More information about the example in the United Kingdom in the latest media accessibility report by the national communications regulator: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/102015/Access-Report-2016-17.5-NEW.pdf