LCQ4: Provision of sign language service for free TV programmes
Following is a question by the Hon Leung Yiu-chung (asked by Dr Hon Fernando Cheung on his behalf) and a reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council today (November 9):
Some persons with hearing impairment have relayed to me their hope that the Government will make sign language as an official language, and require television (TV) stations to provide sign language interpretation service in their news programmes, so as to foster a barrier-free environment for these persons to receive important information. On the other hand, when conducting a public consultation exercise in 2014 in respect of the application for renewal of a domestic free TV programme service licence (TV licence), the Communications Authority (CA) noted the views expressed by various groups that there was an increasing demand for sign language interpretation service provided in news programmes. However, as the licensee said at that time that there was a short supply of qualified sign language interpreters, CA eventually only included in the renewed licence concerned an enabling clause on the provision of sign language interpretation service. CA also indicated that it had planned to conduct a review at the end of 2015 to explore ways to ensure the accuracy of the contents of news programmes upon inclusion of sign language interpretation in such programmes, so as to comply with the relevant programme standards. The effective date of the clause would be subject to the outcome of CA's review. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the details and progress of the aforesaid review conducted by CA; whether CA has formulated a timetable for implementing the clause on the provision on sign language interpretation service in the TV licence; if CA has, of the details; if not, when CA will formulate such timetable;
(2) of the training and accreditation schemes for sign language interpreters to be implemented by the authorities in the next three years; and
(3) whether it will consider making sign language as one of the official languages?
In consultation with the Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB) and the Office of the Communications Authority, we provide our reply to the three parts of the question as follows:
(1) To meet public demand for easier access to information by the hearing impaired, there are provisions in the current domestic free television programme service licences (free TV licences) requiring the licensees to provide subtitling for certain types of programmes (including news programmes) as directed by the Communications Authority (CA).
In its public consultation exercise on the applications of Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) and Asia Television Limited for renewal of their free TV licences in 2014, the CA noted that there was an increasing demand from various groups for the hearing impaired for sign language service in television programmes, particularly in news bulletins.
TVB then submitted to the CA that there was a limited supply of qualified sign language interpreters in Hong Kong, while the Generic Code of Practice on Television Programme Standards (TV Programme Code) promulgated by the CA required that licensees shall make all reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of the factual contents of news. TVB submitted that under this circumstance, should it be required to provide sign language interpretation for news programme, it might not be able to comply with the requirement on the accuracy of contents of news programmes as stipulated in the TV Programme Code.
Taking into account TVB's representations, the CA considered that it was prudent to conduct a review first to explore measures to resolve issues relating to the implementation of and compliance with the TV Programme Code in the provision of sign language service for news programmes. The CA proposed that the review should be completed within 24 months from the commencement of the renewed licence of TVB, i.e. by the end of November 2017. In the meantime, to prepare for the implementation of the proposed requirement on sign language service, the CA recommended to the Chief Executive (CE) in Council that an enabling provision should be included in the renewed licence of TVB to require the licensee to provide sign language services for its free TV programmes as directed by the CA.
The CE in Council approved the application for licence renewal by TVB in May 2015, and accepted the CA's recommendation that an enabling provision be included in the renewed licence of TVB. The effective date of the provision would be subject to the review of the CA.
Upon renewal of the free TV licence of TVB, the CA proceeded to conduct the review on the provision of sign language service for news programmes on free TV and accordingly set up a task force comprising representatives from groups of the hearing impaired to actively examine the relevant issues. The licensees would also be consulted on the recommendations.
Specifically, a number of issues are being examined by the task force under the CA. They include whether there are sufficient sign language interpreters in Hong Kong to provide sign language service for news programmes; the issues relating to licensees' compliance with the TV Programme Code in the provision of sign language service in news programmes; and the specific implementation arrangement for the provision of sign language service in news programmes such as the form of presentation to be adopted for the provision of signing. The CA will endeavour to complete the review by the end of November 2017.
During the transitional period when the CA is conducting the review, in order to facilitate the hearing impaired's access to information, TVB has agreed to provide sign language for Legislative Council and other important government meetings/announcements to be broadcast by its channel(s) where sign language is included in the video feed at source.
(2) and (3) The LWB has set up a Working Group on Promoting Sign Language (Working Group) under the Rehabilitation Advisory Committee (RAC) to advise the Government on ways to promote sign language. The Working Group comprises RAC members, persons with hearing impairment, sign language interpreters, representatives of rehabilitation non-governmental organisations and the education sector. Representatives of relevant government bureaux and departments also attend meetings of the Working Group on a need basis.
In September 2015, the LWB included sign language in the domain of language courses under the Continuing Education Fund (CEF) and course providers may apply for registration of sign language courses as CEF courses. Those enrolled in sign language courses may apply for reimbursement of 80 per cent of the course fees, subject to a maximum sum of $10,000, on successful completion of the courses. Since February 2016, two courses in professional sign language interpretation organised by rehabilitation organisations, both accredited at Qualifications Framework (QF) Level 3 by the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications, have been included in the Reimbursable Course List of the CEF. The Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong has also obtained approval from the University Extension Board to launch its Certificate Programme in Sign Language Teaching (QF Level 3) in June 2016.
Furthermore, in collaboration with rehabilitation organisations, the RAC under LWB also released the first List of Sign Language Interpreters in Hong Kong in June 2016. The list contains information of experienced sign language interpreters in Hong Kong at present, such as their professional qualification, work experience and means of contact. LWB will continue to consider the views of the Working Group and enhance training for sign language interpreters, including building up a glossary of commonly used terms in current affairs to facilitate provision of sign language interpretation for television news broadcasts in the future.
The Working Group notices that a common form of local sign language has yet to evolve. Different sign language expressions may be used by different deaf groups to convey the same meaning. The Working Group considers that priority should be given to the promotion of sign language for the time being to popularise an easy-to-learn basic sign language and facilitate the development of a glossary of commonly used terms in current affairs. The Government currently has no plan to designate sign language as an official language.
Ends/Wednesday, November 9, 2016