NCPD takes legal action against ICASA re captioning on TV news broadcasts

President Cyril Ramaphosa at his desk with the SOuth African flag in the background and a SASL interpreter in the bottom right corner
NCPD questioned the validity of ICASA’s (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) Code for Persons with Disabilities Regulations 2021 and launched legal proceedings to have the 9 April 2021 Code reviewed and set aside.

In South Africa, the use of a Sign Language interpreter has been adopted to portray broadcasts to Sign Language users. The obvious limit to the use of a SL interpreter in television news broadcasts is that the majority of persons with hearing loss do not understand or use Sign Language as a means of communication. This group includes the elderly; 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 and 2 in 3 over the age of 70.

We have lobbied since 2015 for access to news bulletins and public service announcements (including the State of the Nation Address, budget speech and since 2020, the regular addresses by the President on the COVID-19 pandemic) for this grouping, including a submission to ICASA requesting Open Captions (OC) or Open Sub-titles so as to make broadcasts accessible to the vast majority of South Africans affected by hearing loss who do not use Sign Language.

As the regulatory body for the broadcasting industry in South Africa, ICASA issued a Code on 9 April 2021 requiring the broadcasting industry to use Closed Captioning (CC) or Closed Sub-titles. Both of these require technology similar to a TV decoder or the internet which are not affordable to the majority of South Africans. In addition, Open Captioning (OC) or Open Sub-titles, which do not require additional technology and are easily accessible to the public, have not been made compulsory in the regulations, despite NCPD’s request.

Consequently, poor households in South Africa will remain without access to live Captioning or Sub-titles on television, including breaking news or public announcements, thus severely limiting their ability to use public broadcasts as a means of important information.

NCPD contends that this constitutes impermissible discrimination against persons with hearing disability, who use spoken language and not Sign Language as their primary form of communication.

The application was issued from the High Court, Pretoria on 5 October 2021 and served by the Sheriff of the Court to ICASA on 6 October 2021. The application has since been opposed by ICASA and the case is now in the hands of the legal teams for both parties.

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