EU to mandate TV subtitles


BRUSSELS -- All public-service television programs in the European Union must be subtitled, the European Parliament said Wednesday.

Meeting in Brussels, the Parliament said that subtitles -- or closed captioning -- ensure all viewers, including deaf and hard-of-hearing people, have full access to programs. The Parliament vote, in the form of a written declaration, added that subtitles also help with foreign-language learning.

Polish Socialist member Lidia Joanna Geringer De Oedenberg, who initiated the vote, said that partial or complete loss of hearing is a condition that affects more than 83 million people in the EU and, given the aging of the European population, this problem will continue to grow. She called on the European Commission to put forward legislation obliging public-service broadcasters to insert subtitles as soon as possible.

The declaration points out that public-service television has a mission to inform and educate viewers, and that subtitles are a simple way of fulfilling that obligation.

Subtitles are common in Europe for films and imported programs. Subtitles for the hard-of-hearing -- or closed captioning -- tend to be a transcription rather than a translation, and usually contain descriptions of important nondialogue audio as well such as "sighs" or "door creaks."

The Parliament's vote said that today's technology enables television programs -- including live broadcasts -- to be subtitled as they go out. For example, the BBC this month moved to subtitle all its programs.