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Digital Television

Volume 405: debated on Wednesday 21 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what steps her Department is taking to ensure that people who are blind are able to enjoy digital television. [114192]

The Government fully recognise the importance of access to television services for people with sensory impairments. Digital technology has huge potential for improving services and we are extremely keen that all groups benefit.The Communications Bill currently before Parliament strengthens the requirements for audio description on television. The Bill sets targets of 10 per cent. of programmes to be audio described for the blind, extending these requirements to digital cable and satellite broadcasters for the first time.The Government have also been raising awareness among manufacturers about the opportunities in the market for equipment for disabled people. For example the Government are encouraging manufacturers to use design for all principles to produce better designed new equipment both for those with disabilities and those without.

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what plans she has to raise the target for audio description for digital television programmes. [114193]

The 10 per cent. target for audio description was considered as part of the Review of the Statutory Requirements for the Provision of Subtitling, Signing and Audio Description, the report of which was published In January 2001. Having considered all the issues, during the review, we concluded that the 10 per cent. target should be maintained. We believe that this target is challenging but achievable.This decision recognised the unresolved production and distribution difficulties with the audio description modules needed to receive the service. The Government have been working with the RNIB, broadcasters and manufacturers to help identify possible solutions to these problems and we are disappointed that the current problems have not yet been solved.The Communications Bill, currently in Parliament, allows the Secretary of State, following consultation with OFCOM, to vary the target percentage for audio description, by order. So even though the target is currently 10 per cent. it means that if there were significant advances in the current technology, and more widespread take-up of the modules, targets could he increased.