Sunday, February 15, 2004

Closed Captioning

A recent op-ed from the Palm Beach Post claims that the Bush administration is trying to censor television programming for deaf people:
The Bush administration has decided that people with bad hearing have bad judgment, too, and need special guidance from the federal government.

So the U.S. Department of Education is declaring about 200 television programs inappropriate for closed-captioning and denying federal grant requests to make them accessible to the hearing-impaired.

The department made its decisions based on the recommendations of a five-member panel. Who the five members are, only the government seems to know, and it isn't saying. But the shows they censored suggest a perspective that is Talibanesque.

The government is refusing to caption Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, apparently fearing that the deaf would fall prey to witchcraft if they viewed the classic sitcoms.

Your government also believes that Law & Order is too intense for the hard-of-hearing. So is Power Rangers. You can rest easy knowing that your federal tax dollars aren't being spent to promote Sanford and Son, Judge Wapner's Animal Court and The Loretta Young Show within the deaf community. Kids with hearing problems can forget about watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, classic cartoons or Nickelodeon features. Even Roy Rogers and Robin Hood are out.
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Lots of bloggers are commenting on this story, mostly taking a critical view of the Bush administration's "censorship."

What the commenters seem not to know is that the Department of Education is just following a law signed by President Clinton on June 4, 1997. The law -- which amended the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- can be found at P.L. 105-17. The relevant section (201(c)) was codified at 20 U.S.C. 1487, and it requires that after fiscal year 2001, the Department of Education can provide public funds for closed captioning only for "educational, news, and informational television, videos, or materials."

Thus, when the Department of Education issues a notice (as it did last July) inviting projects to submit requests for a closed-captioning grant, each project must create a "consumer advisory group" that will "certify that each program captioned or described with project funds is educational, news, or informational programming."

One might quibble with some of the choices made by the Department of Education. (You can find a list of the non-approved and approved television programs here.) But the fact remains: the law signed by President Clinton does limit the Department of Education's ability to fund the closed-captioning of fluffy entertainment programs. (Yes, I'm assuming for purposes of discussion that Bewitched, Sanford and Son, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the like, do not remotely qualify as "educational, news, or informational.") Those who are unhappy with this situation should lobby Congress to change the law, rather than accuse the Department of Education of being "Talibanesque."


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