TVNZ lawyer says broadcaster doesn't need to provide sign language

By Contributor

By Ellen Thompson, Open Justice Multimedia Journalist, Tāmaki Makaurau

A TVNZ lawyer says it isn't up to the broadcast station to accommodate sign language in matters of emergency.

A complaint laid by Deaf Action covers the lack of New Zealand Sign Language [NZSL] access on 1News's items of national interest and claims that access to the news in sign language is a human right.

Yesterday, Deaf Action chairman Kim Robinson told the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which is sitting in the Auckland District Court, of the difficulties that members of the deaf community have when receiving important information on television.

Today, during cross-examination, TVNZ lawyer Daniel Nilsson said it was up to National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to provide interpreters for national events, not TVNZ.

"In the memorandum, it says it is up to NEMA to provide an interpreter, not TVNZ."

"One of the reasons to have the agency provide the interpreter rather than the broadcaster reflects advice from the deaf community, including deaf Aotearoa."

"NEMA has said it is appropriate for them to provide an interpreter, it shows they are taking responsibility for what is communicated in NZSL."

Nilsson asked Robinson about the actions that had been taken already.

"You say you haven't seen action, but there has been action."

"We have seen a significant increase in sign language in relation to significant national events in New Zealand."

"Covid had action, mosque attacks had action. When the Canterbury floods happened, there was a regional agency that took the same approach."

Nilsson then talked about the importance of interpreters being able to provide access to other services in the deaf community.

"Would you agree that having interpreters there for outings such as hospital visits, court hearings and meetings are more important to individual deaf people than having the news interpreted that night?"

Robinson replied saying all of the examples were important and that prioritising "is a tricky business."

"But it is up to TVNZ to provide access, it doesn't matter where the interpreter is from or where the emergency is around the country, we need the access," he said.

Another witness told the tribunal how it makes him feel forgotten about as a taxpayer in New Zealand.

"The captions move too fast, there are many words that are misunderstood and I don't know the meanings of, but with an interpreter, it is immediately clear."

Yesterday, Robinson told the panel the deaf community are missing out on vital information.

"TVNZ news provides access to national and international current affairs, including alerts and announcements. Deaf people need to be aware of this information too."

Robinson, who was joined by a sign language interpreter, said that although TVNZ provides captioning, it was not good enough.

"Captioning is two-dimensional, we cannot pick up on the tone or emphasis of the message and we need to know this to understand what is being said.

"For people who can hear, captioning is like listening to someone in monotone," he said.

Deaf Action lawyer Michael Timmins said the case was about being able to access full inclusion and equality.

"A traditionally marginalised group have come forward to challenge the system to progress and advance our society."

The hearing is set to run through to October with seven witnesses giving evidence.