FCC: Six Steps To Avoid Captioning Lapses

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The FCC says it is trying to give TV station news departments some guidance on what constitutes compliance with the FCC's emergency-information closed-captioning rules.

In a public notice released Wednesday, the commission reminded broadcasters that, as of January of 2006, they had been required to close-caption all non-exempt programming, which includes breaking news and emergency alerts.

Conceding that emergency information is, essentially by definition, not available in advance and must be posted on short notice, the commission says that it recognizes that it can be difficult to meet the 100% compliance mark. As a result, it will consider those conditions as mitigating circumstances so long as the captioning lapse is minimal and "reasonable" under the circumstances, though it cannot make that determination until presented with a specific set of facts.

But it also listed a number of steps video distributors "may take" to prevent such lapses. They include 1) finding outside services that can turn around the captions quickly; 2) making contacting those services "immediately" a priority; 3) posting the contact information on TV sets in the newsroom; 4) program a speed dial button on a newsroom phone with the number of the captioning service; 5) create and circulate a "visual presentation policy," which could include open captioning, crawls, on-screen scrolls, prepared signs, charts, or even writing on a whiteboard; and traing employees about those presentation policies.

At least two TV stations settled with the FCC last year over commission findings that their news departments had failed to provide sufficient on-screen information to hearing-impaired viewers .

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