The larger picture about inclusive
- The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) recently mandated
captioning for TV programming in order to make it accessible to the Deaf or
Hard of Hearing population.
- The decision comes nearly four decades after the United States first
implemented captioning for the same purpose.
- India’s phase-wise implementation plan requires all 800 plus channels to
start this on at least one programme a week, beginning August 15, 2019,
Independence Day. By 2020, 10% of all programming must have captions.
- The figure is to grow by 10% every year, covering up to 50% of all
programming by 2025.
- The policy impetus for this decision is rooted in the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities Act, 2016 which made “sub-titles” on TV a right.
- The major challenge for the Ministry now is to ensure compliance by all
channels, state and private, as set in the time table.
- Captioning on TV for the aurally-challenged is not new.
- Many countries have followed the U.S.’s lead. Still, India’s foray into
TV captioning is significant for two reasons.
- It is one of the first major countries in the Global South to embrace
captioning for media access, Brazil being the other one.
- But India is the first country where the importance of captioning, or
Same Language Subtitling (SLS) has been established for mass reading
- At a time when countries are searching for scalable and evidence-based
solutions to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SLS in
India, if implemented as mandated, is poised to make a massive contribution
to SDG-4 on quality education; this is because quality education,
foundationally, depends on good reading skills.
- India has a billion TV viewers. The average Indian watches TV for 3
hours and 46 minutes every day, according to the latest FICCI–EY Media &
Entertainment report (2019). Film (24%) and general entertainment (53%) are
the dominant genres. All of this content is now required to have SLS, in all
- Scientific evidence suggests that SLS on TV would serve three goals:
daily and automatic reading literacy practice for one billion viewers,
including 500 million weak-readers who would benefit the most.
- Indian language improvement for one billion viewers, and, finally, media
access for 65 million aurally challenged people.
- In India have been implementing SLS for film and general entertainment
content for over a decade.
- A fascinating study that compared ‘dubbing’ with ‘subtitling’ countries
of English content on TV found that the population in the latter group has
better English language proficiency.
- English channels in India added SLS on their own to help the Indian ear
grasp unfamiliar English accents, causing a rise in viewership.
- Importantly, the English SLS experience establishes that it is not
difficult for the entertainment industry to implement SLS system-wide, if it
- Studies in India are at the global forefront of advancing SLS for
reading literacy, having proven in several TV pilots.
- SLS causes automatic and inescapable reading engagement even among very
weak readers who can barely decode a few letters.
- The regular exposure to SLS leads to measurable reading skill
improvement, and improved reading skills result in much higher rates of
newspaper and other forms of reading.
- With frequent exposure to SLS over three to five years on content that
people watch in any case, most weak readers can become functional and even
- The cost of SLS is negligible for new content when incorporated in the
production process itself.
- To institutionalise SLS on TV, broadcast policy could, therefore, simply
mandate it for all new content produced and telecast after a set date.
- The Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER) have found that,
nationally, half the rural children in standard 5 cannot read standard
2-level text. Despite all the system-level inputs on quality education, this
outcome measure has stubbornly resisted any noteworthy improvement.
- If India is to achieve its commitment to SDG 4 on quality education, we
need solutions, backed by evidence, and the collective power of the
government, civil society, academia and the industry to implement them.
- The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has taken the most
important step toward mainstreaming TV captioning.
- Now, together with the Ministry of Electronics and Information
Technology, policy needs to mandate SLS on all digital Over-The-Top (OTT)
- Although translation subtitling is commonplace on OTT platforms and they
offer SLS in English, none of them has SLS in the Indian languages, such as
Hindi subtitles for Hindi content and so on.
- This is simply because policy does not yet require SLS on OTT.
- Civil society has shown how SLS can be implemented cost-effectively.
- Academia has provided strong evidence that SLS works remarkably well to
achieve the multiple goals of media access, reading literacy and language
- The entertainment industry must play its part by turning on SLS for
audio-visual content in all Indian languages. SLS is a right. Let us do the
India is in a unique position to scale up ‘same language subtitling’,
improving both media access and reading literacy. Comment.