A charity has written to Ofcom calling for regulatory action over Channel 4’s ongoing lack of subtitles, describing the situation as a “complete dereliction of duty”.
The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) said it had asked the broadcasting watchdog to intervene and resolve the “completely unacceptable” delay in fixing the issue.
In its response, a spokesman for Ofcom said the organisation shares the “concern” of NDCS.
On Tuesday, Channel 4 announced that subtitles, sign language and audio description may not return to some of its services until the middle of November after its output was repeatedly disrupted following a technical issue that arose last month.
Red Bee Media, which handles playout services for Channel 4 and 5, previously revealed that the “activation of the fire suppression system” last month at its broadcasting centre triggered audio and picture problems.
The NDCS said the issue left many of the 12 million deaf people living in the UK unable to access the broadcaster’s TV programmes and news services.
In the letter, the charity expresses “grave concern at the protracted absence of subtitles from Channel 4’s content” which it says is having “a very direct and detrimental impact on young deaf viewers”.
“We consider a satisfactory resolution of these issues is now long overdue and needs to be addressed as a matter of the utmost urgency,” it says.
Mike Hobday, director of policy and campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “It’s simply unacceptable that Channel 4 is unable to provide subtitles for its viewers.
“We’re hearing from numerous deaf children and young people who are deeply frustrated at not being able to watch their favourite programmes with their family and friends.
“If there was no sound on TV, there would be a national outcry.
“Until recently, Channel 4 has been widely celebrated as a force for good in the disability sector, promoting and advancing disability awareness, equality and inclusion.
“However, the failure of its planning and the weakness of its response leaves us wondering whether accessibility remains a priority.
“Reinstating subtitles quickly would mean the welcome return of programmes that have effectively been ‘off air’ to deaf people for weeks. It would also send the message that young deaf people are valued viewers too.”
A statement from Maia, a deaf 16-year-old from Sussex, said: “I am missing vital moments in Channel 4 shows, especially The Great British Bake Off.
“It makes me feel frustrated that I can’t laugh at any of the jokes, let alone understand what is happening.”
In its announcement on Tuesday, Channel 4 said it has begun to trial new methods of delivering subtitles during some programmes and subtitles are being added to some shows such as Gogglebox and The Great British Bake Off on its All 4 streaming platform.
However full access to subtitles, sign language and audio description “might not be available until the middle of November”, it added.
“We know that this will be incredibly disappointing to everyone, but we do need to get this right.”
An Ofcom spokesman said: “We share the NDCS’s concern about these problems, which are causing deep upset and frustration.
“Channel 4 did not have strong back-up measures in place, and it should not have taken several weeks to provide a clear, public plan and timeline for fixing the problems.
“We have met Channel 4 to express our concerns and ensure it meets its timings for restoring subtitles, signing and audio description.
“We will then consider any further action.”
Channel 4 apologised to viewers in a statement.
The broadcaster said it would “like to apologise to viewers for not currently being able to provide access services”.
“We realise how frustrating this is for our viewers and we have been in helpful discussions with RNID to aid our communications around the issues,” the statement added.
“This week, we will start making some of our most popular programmes available on All4 with subtitles.
“We are also currently testing a completely new system to provide subtitles, audio description and sign language services.
“However, this is a complex, sequential process and needs to be done without compromising our broadcast capability. Therefore, it is likely that full access services will not be restored until mid-November.”