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Baroness Wilcox: I support this amendment ensuring the continuation of the analogue teletext service for so long as the digital equivalent is inaccessible to visually impaired and deafblind consumers.
Teletext is a lifeline for many disabled people. It provides an invaluable link into the world of television, from which they can otherwise be excluded. We are all familiar with page 888 giving subtitles. The service brings to life a huge range of programmes, from news to entertainment, for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. In a similar way, teletext services bring benefits to the partially sighted, delivering up-to-date information in a clear format which can be enlarged and read by those with minor visual impairments too.
Furthermore, as we have heard, analogue teletext can be interpreted by talking teletext equipment or devices that turn it into Braille. Unfortunately, that is so far not the case for digital services, which cannot be read or interpreted by machines. It would be a real shame if this example of best practice in including disabled consumers were to be phased out for the sake of change.
The amendment does not require an analogue teletext service to go on for ever, but only so long as the digital version remains inaccessible. This would cease to be relevant once the technology became available to allow the visually impaired to use digital teletext in the way in which they can currently take advantage of analogue teletext.
In a similar vein, we welcome Clause 298 under which Ofcom is required to publish a code providing guidance to services on the promotion of subtitling, audio-description and sign language and which gives a time-frame for meeting targets. Amendment No. 246 extends this to include services which are primarily broadcast abroad, which seems a sensible suggestion.
After all, under this Bill cable and satellite broadcasters will, for the first time, have to meet targets on services that benefit disabled consumers. If the principle of access for all consumers applies to audiences within the UK, surely there is no reason why that should not be relevant to audiences further afield.
Baroness Wilkins: I support the amendment. I spoke about the future problems that would be raised in regard to digital teletext for blind and deafblind people at Second Reading. It is such a serious matter for this group of people that I feel sure that the Government will respond favourably to the amendment.
The potential isolation caused by being deafblind, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, so graphically set out, is hard to contemplate. Surely we must do everything we can to alleviate it. Teletext has become a vital source of information, news and education for many thousands of blind and deafblind people and has played a major part in putting them in touch with the world around them. To remove that vital resource just because technology has moved on is surely too cruel. I hope that the Minister will respond favourably to the amendment.
Lord Lipsey: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 246 standing in my name. Members of the Committee could be excused some slight confusion. First, the amendment has nothing to do with the very important subject of teletext services for deafblind people. I wholly endorse every word that has been said on that subject. Secondly, it seems to me that I have made a mess of the drafting of the amendment so that it does not even do what I want it to do.
My concern relates to people making television programmes in this country for broadcast to other countries. Under the Bill as drafted it seems possiblethis is probably unintentionalthat they would have to observe for those television services that will only be shown abroad the same standards as will rightly be
It is true that Ofcom can get round this under Clause 298 by ruling as to exactly what should be done for each service. But that seems a huge burden on Ofcom. It would seem more sensible to provide for this automatically by alleviating all those channels for which programmes are made in and broadcast from the United Kingdom but not shown here. There is also a commercial motive in this regard. If we do not do that and impose the obligations, the channels can easily be moved and broadcast from another country. We should simply lose that benefit to the industry. I hope that my noble friend will consider the amendment carefully.
Lord Bragg: I rise briefly to support the powerful case made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I work with the Royal National Institute for the Blind and know what a vital facility the service is. I cannot support the noble Lord strongly enough.
Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I would like to support the amendment equally briefly but equally firmly. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, and others made a very good case for it. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic but I implore her, if she cannot give us a good answer now, to think more firmly about it and perhaps come back with an answer or meet with us in between the Bill's stages.
Baroness Blackstone: I share the views expressed around the Chamber about the importance of allowing the visually impaired and the deafblind in particular to have access to those services. I want to give a sympathetic response but I am afraid that there is a technology issue in this regard. It will not be possible for the public teletext licensee to continue to provide an analogue text service after the switchover to digital as the spare capacity on which the service is broadcast will no longer be available. Nor can the equivalent of the analogue service be provided on digital terrestrial television because of capacity restraints.
I fully appreciate the value that visually impaired and deafblind people place on access to digital teletext services, but I do not believe that putting requirements in the Bill on the public teletext service licensee or on Ofcom is the most effective and practical way in which to find a solution to the problem.
However, I believe that there is a solution. My officials understand from the Independent Television Commission technology group that it believes that it will be possible to design a digital version of the talking teletext equipment that would work with digital
Amendment No. 246 would mean that the code would not apply to any television licensable content service with an intended audience most of whom lived outside the United Kingdom. However, Clause 298(6) provides that, in considering exclusions from the subtitling, signing and audio description targets, Ofcom must have regard to the factors that are set out in Clause 298(6)(a) to (f). They already include, in Clause 298(6)(d), the extent to which members of the intended audience for the programmes are resident in places outside the United Kingdom.
I believe that that amendment is unnecessary as there is already a provision in the Bill to allow Ofcom to consider the extent to which the intended audience is outside the United Kingdom. Furthermore, there may actually be some occasions on which it is appropriate for services with a primarily non-UK audience to provide assistance for the disabled. Were we to accept this amendment, however, we would leave Ofcom powerless to ensure that suitable
Lord Lipsey: I beg my noble friend's pardon. She said that there were some services shown outside the UK for which the requirement would be appropriate, but she did not list any. Could she give me some examples of what she has in mind?
Baroness Blackstone: There may be some occasions, as I was saying, on which it is appropriate for services with a primary non-UK audience to provide assistance for the disabled. There could be a whole variety of different services, to which the disabled want access. I cannot particularly specify any one kind of service. News services
Baroness Blackstone: If I could finish. Let us take Europe-wide news services as an example. There may be many others, such as pan-European sport. Such services are provided across the Continent of Europe and are not primarily for a domestic audience.
In conclusion, if we agreed to the amendment, it would mean that Ofcom could not ensure that suitable provision was made in those circumstances. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
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