U.K. Media Regulator Investigating Channel 4 Over Prolonged Subtitles Outage

Beleaguered British broadcaster Channel 4 is being investigated by media regulator Ofcom over a prolonged outage to its subtitling, signing and audio description services last year.

In September 2021, a number of U.K. broadcasters’ access services were disrupted when a fire alarm went off at distribution hub Red Bee Media.

Channel 4’s was the most prolonged disruption, with services ceasing on Sept. 25 and not fully resuming until Nov. 19, a period of almost two months.

The incident means the broadcaster failed to meet a government quota for providing subtitles on satellite TV platform Freesat, which is found in around 2 million U.K. homes. All public broadcasters are required to meet the quota, which is set in proportion to their programme hours each calendar year.

Because it outperformed in terms of subtitling its programmes outside of the outage period Channel 4 did meet its legal requirements to provide subtitles across 90% of its programme hours in 2021 as well as meeting its quotas for audio description and signing.

However due to failing to meet its Freesat quota, Ofcom has confirmed it will investigate “Channel 4’s under-provision of subtitles on the Freesat platform and the surrounding circumstances.”

As part of the investigation, Ofcom will explore whether Channel 4 promoted “awareness of the availability of its access services, across all its channels and platforms, during the period of the outage” as well as conducting a wider review of how broadcasters provide access services.

“These problems caused deep upset and frustration among the millions of people who rely on subtitles, signing or audio description to enjoy TV,” said Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s group director for broadcasting.

“Channel 4 took several weeks to provide a clear, public plan and timeline for fixing the problems. As well as investigating Channel 4, we’re reviewing the wider effects of the outage to make sure broadcasters learn lessons and protect access services in future.”

The investigation comes at a tough time for Channel, with the government indicating it is going to strongly explore the possibility of privatizing the broadcaster.

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