Senate Bill (SB) 2239, also known as the “Closed Caption Broadcasting of Television Programs Act” is now a law and is assigned Republic Act (RA) No. 10905.

Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media chair Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares, one of the principal sponsor of the measure, said the legislation, entitled as “An act requiring all franchise holders or operators of television stations and producers of television programs to broadcast or present their programs with closed caption options,” has lapsed into law. It will ‎take effect 15 days after publication in the Official Gazette or in at least two (2) newspapers of general circulation.

Closed captioning (CC)

Closed captioning is a method of subtitling TV programs by coding statements as vertical data signals that are decoded at the receiver and superimposed at the bottom of the TV screen. The text can be displayed by a TV with a built-in CC decoder.

Close captions and open captions or subtitles

Terms “caption” and “subtitle” are used interchangeably. Captions commonly refer to on-screen text specifically designed for hearing impaired TV viewers. On the other hand, subtitles are direct transcriptions or translations of the dialogue. Captions are usually placed below the person who is speaking. It include descriptions of sounds (e.g., closing doors, clapping hands) and music. “Closed” captions are optional and not visible until the viewer activates them, by pressing ‘CC’ button on TV remote control. Meanwhile, “open” captions are always visible, such as subtitles on foreign movies.

Implementing rules

Pending the release of implementing rules and guidelines, it is not yet clear whether the captions will be technically included in the existing analog TV broadcast stream, using the NTSC standard or if “open” captions will also be allowed.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), in consultation with concerned agencies and entities, shall promulgate the necessary implementing rules and regulations within 120 days from the effectivity date of the Act.

Digital television (ISDB-T) transition

The Philippines adopted the Japanese standard in 2010, the Integrated Services Digital Broadcast-Terrestrial (ISDB-T), as the sole standard for the transition from analog to digital. The Philippines is expected to shutdown analog broadcasts in 2020. According to Digital Broadcasting Experts Group (DiBEG), ISDB-T may support closed captioning feature.

Coverage

The law requires television station operators or holders of broadcast franchises and television program producers to use closed caption methods in the delivery broadcasts for persons with hearing disabilities, including but not limited to newscast or news programs and pre-scripted programs. It will provide opportunities for the hearing-impaired audience access to news, entertainment and other relevant information for their welfare.

The new law defines “newscast” or “news programs” as the reporting of happenings of recent occurence whether political, social, moral, religious and other subjects intended for general public. Newscast refers to “straight news reporting” and is different from news’ analyses, commentaries and opinions.

Exemptions

The law exempts public service announcements that are shorter than 10 minutes, programs that shown early morning from 1 am to 6 am, programs that are primarily textual in nature and when compliance would be “economically burdensome” or will result in significant expense or difficulty. Factors to consider are the cost of closed caption, impact on operations, type of operations and financial resources of the providers and producers.

Penalties for non-compliance

Any franchise holder or operator of broadcast television stations and producer of television programs, who will violate the Act, shall pay a fine of Php 50,000 to a maximum of Php 100 thousand or face six-month up to one year imprisonment, or both, at the discretion of the court.

In case the offender is a corporation, partnership or association, or any other juridical entity, the president, manager, administrator, or person-in-charge of the management of the business shall be liable and also subject to cancellation of permit or license to operate.

Caring for the deaf

Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr. cited there are about 4.5 million deaf Filipinos, most of whom have no access to programs for them to realize their full potentials. Revilla said the passage of this bill will address the constitutional mandate for the State to recognize the basic right of the people to information on matters of public concern.

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Infographic of the Closed Caption Law. Photo courtesy of Sen. Grace Poe’s official website (www.gracepoe.ph)

Legislative history

A similar version, House Bill (HB) 925, was already passed by the House of Representatives in 2014. However, they decided to adopt SB 2239 as an amendment. On May 23, 2016, the Senate approved the bill on third reading.

As part of the legislative process, if the President does not act on a proposed law submitted by Congress, it will lapse into law after 30 days of receipt. Former President Benigno Aquino III failed to sign before the end of his term.

HB 925 is authored by Buhay Partylist Reps. William Irwin Tieng, Mariano Velarde, Jr. and Lito Atienza. SB 2239 was authored by Senators Grace Poe, Bong Revilla and Loren Legarda.

Subtitles on UNTV newscasts since 2014

Even before the passage of the bill, UNTV News and Rescue is already testing the use of captions in some of its news programs. Since 4th quarter of 2014, UNTV’s late afternoon newscast Ito ang Balita use “open” captions. While the news is delivered in Filipino language, text captions in a form of English subtitle appear at the bottom part of the TV screen. Later, UNTV C-News (formerly UNTV News) also began showing English subtitles.

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Since November 2014, UNTV’s flagship newscast Ito ang Balita shows English subtitles in some of its news reports.
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An episode of Ang Dating Daan (Itanong Mo Kay Soriano) with English subtitle.

Some of the recorded episodes of the program Ang Dating Daan and Itanong Mo Kay Soriano aired in UNTV have English subtitles, primarily for the benefit of foreign audience. Some episodes also show on-screen sign language interpreter for the benefit of the hearing-impaired. [techthetruth]


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