**UPDATE: Issue has been resolved.**
Letter from Greg Hlibok to Don Grushkin concerning the censored closed captions issue. Thanks for sharing Don.
This is a response for you and everyone else who has interest in this matter. Thus, feel free to post this on your blog.
It was brought to my attention that misinformation about the FCC’s closed captioning rules has found its way onto a blog. I hope to clarify the information about the FCC’s closed captioning rules so everyone will have accurate information.
The issue of censorship had not been contemplated in the FCC’s past rulemaking proceedings on closed captioning. Because of this, the closed captioning rules are silent about censorship. Broadcasters, satellite and cable providers must comply with all of the Commission’s regulations about what is required or disallowed to be conveyed to consumers’ televisions. This includes rules regarding indecent or profane language and images. Some of these rules have different standards as to what is permissible depending on the time of day when the program is aired.
Often a show containing indecent or profane language in the audio track originally airs later at night, when such language is allowed, and is then rebroadcast on another day at an earlier time with a “cleaned up” audio track. It is our understanding that some program producers, using an abundance of caution to comply with the indecency rules, have established contracts with the captioning service provider to produce one captioned version of the program that contains modified, or “cleaned up” language so as to meet the standard required during prime-time programming – the times when children and families are most likely to be watching the TV show. This arrangement allows the program to be aired at any time (day or night) using only one captioned version of the program. The FCC does not regulate the agreements between the program producers and the caption companies as long as they are not in violation of the Commission’s rules. That being said, the Commission’s rules define closed captioning to be “The visual display of the audio portion of video programming pursuant to the technical specifications set forth in part 15 of this chapter.” Airing the “cleaned up” captions on the version of the program that does not contain the “cleaned up” track, may not be appropriate. It is an issue we are looking into.
In order to be informed about proceedings in the Commission and particularly in the Disability Rights Office, you may subscribe to our email listserv by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a great way to be informed about any proposed rule changes related to closed captioning and access to communications technologies for persons with disabilities. We welcome you to file comments to weigh in with your position on any matters under consideration.
Thanks for bringing this important matter to my attention.