Working as One

This week members of Deaf Australia have received a survey asking them to indicate what they feel is an acceptable level of cinema access. The Rebuttal is a firm supporter of consulting with the wider community before proposing things to governments or other organisations. On the one hand it is good that Deaf Australia is consulting but on the other it is not. Why? Because the issue of cinema captioning, especially in the last few months, has changed – the strategy has changed and the situation is now at a crucial stage that requires solidarity. Deaf Australia have sent this survey very much against the wishes of the other players in this campaign and this, potentially, can divide the campaign. At this crucial stage it is the last thing that we need.

Deaf Australia  have distributed their survey very much alone. It appears that they did not consult with the other players in this campaign. Perhaps they felt the need to be representative of their members and that is entirely their decision. Unfortunately their survey, intentionally or not, contains a number of inaccuracies. This article will attempt to show what these inaccuracies are.

First of all DA have claimed that it is not the cinemas fault that not all movies are captioned. They claim that it is the distributors who are at fault. The distributors are certainly the outlet that provides captioned movies but the reality is that they only provide what they see as the demand. What this means is that if the cinemas are only going to show one movie at three sessions a week that is what the distributors will provide. Like any business if a request is made for, and paid for, the distributors will move heaven and earth to provide because it is the market that drives them. If there is demand there will be supply.  Currently because cinemas provide very little access the distributors only provide what the market asks for.

The cinemas are the group that create the demand. They do this by asking for more captioned movies and putting on more sessions. If they say to the distributors, for example, we want to provide four movies per week with captions then the distributors, because there is money in it for them, will provide what is asked for. The cinemas MUST take responsibility to create the demand by providing realistic access. The CINEMAS are just as RESPONSIBLE as the distributors and in many ways more so.

Deaf Australia have sought to gauge from its members a level for captioned movies that they see as acceptable. They have taken, in my view, a rather paternalistic approach to this matter. For example they state to members, as if they were not aware already, that 100% captioning of all movies is not realistic. The majority of us know this already but the crux of the matter here is that by giving the cinemas a figure that people find acceptable then that is all that the cinemas are likely to provide.

Previous negotiations have tried to put a figure on what is a fair level of access and this approach, to date, has not produced results that deaf and vision impaired consumers find acceptable. This can be seen from the 465 submissions to the Australian Human Rights Commission in regard to the Cinema Industry’s application for exemption to DDA complaints . I have read all of these and anyone who has read them will clearly see that the vast majority have stated:

  • that .03% access to cinemas is an insult.
  • that having only one movie to chose from is not acceptable
  • that the times available to see the movies are not fully accessible, being mostly off-peak times.
  • the choice of venues is not diverse enough
  • poor standards such as clear advertising of sessions often mean people attend the sessions only to find the captions are not being provided.
  • that the cinemas are not respecting or acknowledging the size of the market. The market does not just include deaf people it also includes their associates and numbers in the millions. Proper access will see any outlay spent by the cinemas to provide captioning recouped. What this means is the cinemas need to INVEST to tap into the market just as they did with 3D technology.
  • that the cinemas are immensely profitable and can afford to provide a lot more access.

All of these points I am recalling purely from memory. These are the issues that the cinemas need to address. It is dangerous to give the cinemas a number that the consumers find acceptable because it puts the responsibility for working out access on US. Access is the responsibility of the Cinemas. As paying customer we expect a fair level of access. We are the market and the cinemas have to acknowledge that we are a sizable market and not just a burden. In this sense it is a clear mistake to say we will accept 17% or 20%. Why? because the campaign focused on the cinemas providing for the MARKET and it is for the cinemas to work out the level of access that meets the needs of that market not the consumers. In short the cinemas have to come to us with a plan not us to them.

Did you see the cinemas crying poor about 3D technology? Did you see them sending surveys to consumers saying – “Would you accept 3% of movies in 3D?” or “What is a fair level of access to 3D movies for you?” or ” Would you come on Monday or Tuesday, in the evening, in the morning?”  No! What they did was to develop a thorough business plan and then MARKETED the service to the hilt.  They took responsibility for working out the market and the level of provision, they invested and they took RISKS. And then they spent money on the technology trusting to hell it would make a profit.

The captioned movies market is exactly the same. If the cinemas acknowledge the market, provide the appropriate access when people can attend and provide the diversity of choice in venues and movies then their investment is likely to succeed. We the consumers are not a welfare case, we are a viable market. This is the approach of this campaign. The mistake of the past has been to provide  so called “acceptable levels” of access – This campaign is saying provide for the market and this is what the cinemas must do. They must invest and provide for the market. If they do the costs will take care of themselves.

One needs to remember that the Australian Human Rights Commission has ruled in the Cinema Access Campaigns favour. They have clearly said that the cinemas do not provide enough access, nor do they respect the size of the market. What is more the minister responsible for media access, Stephen Conroy, is backing the decision of the Australian Human Rights Commission. He has even called the CEOs of the Big 4 Cinemas to a meeting and when he calls they jump!  Again this is a first. The Government, until now, has steadfastly refused to become involved. In this sense the Cinema Access Campaign strategy has worked. Deaf Australia need to acknowledge this publicly and even thank them.

There needs to be one strategy and one approach to this campaign. Communication needs to be united and consistent. While it is commendable that Deaf Australia are consulting with their members the approach of their survey is the exact opposite of what the campaign wants to take. It is not about ego anymore it is about solidarity. The deal that Deaf Australia, Deafness Forum and Media Access agreed to in exchange for support for the Cinema Industry’s application for DDA exemption was clearly rejected by the consumers that they represent. The Cinema Access Campaign are the new kids on the block. They have, in a short time, changed the landscape. True, they put a few noses out of joint but look what they achieved. It is time for solidarity so I implore Deaf Australia to work as one with them.

5 thoughts on “Working as One

  1. I did hear a rumour that there were people who were part of the previous negotiation group who negotiated to have cinemas that were close to them included in the original proposal.

    If this is true the whole process was a sham. I am with the new group. I hope people let them take the lead.

  2. I am somewhat astounded (and NOT in a good way) that all this energy, frustration and lobbying is being wasted on complaining about the lack of captioned movies, when real issues affecting Deaf and hard of hearing people are rarely receiving a mention.

    I mean, what about the poor state of education for Deaf kids, setting them up for a life of welfare dependency, poverty or low skilled jobs? What about the limits on interpreting support for Deaf people in education, work and life activities? What about the lack of funding for hearing aids for Deaf and HoH adults? What about the isolation faced by Deaf people unable to afford electronic communication?

    I could go on but The Rebuttal knows the issues. Knows them well.

    Why aren’t they being addressed in this public forum? At the end of the day, are you more concerned that Sex and the city 2 has captions, or your Deaf child receives a solid eduction. I think The Rebuttal needs a reality check as it seems to have lost it’s way, lost i’t s punch and lost it’s power.

    Someone needs to give you lot a boot up the backside and help you refocus on what matters; the next generation.

  3. Indeed curious and we have written about them often. BUT Cinema captioning is important for the spin offs that it can create. It sets precedents.Now if we can hold the Cinemas to account and they have to cough up – what will that mean for Goverments that don’t provide captioned educationnal stuff or proper education for deaf kids. What you say is absolutely true but the law is about precedents. This case has the potential to set many balls in motion. If successful it needs to be built on. Success breeds success and one would hope that success here will encourage others to take up all these other vital issues that you name. BIG PICTURE – this case is all part of the creation.

  4. Hi Curious

    One can argue that all things are interconnected. Education, housing, job opportunities, interpreter and captioned access are all important and have a roll on effect.

    Cinema captioning may seem trivial but the spin offs are there. Increased captioning leads to better socialisation opportunities and also more literacy exposure and learning. It boosts self esteem, helps with mental health at times etc. It’s all linked.

    The current group working on this campaign are also developing invaluable lobbying skills that can be redirected to other channels and issues. Perhaps better to bite our teeth on this rather than an even more pivotally serious incident and get that wrong with lack of inexperience.

    And also, life is not easy. It’s a hard slog. How many of us trudge home from a hard day’s work and want to switch off by watching some mindless crap on tv? Movies also offer that escape. It provides a balance that we need to keep our energies up and going for those other important issues you speak of.

    I am a teacher of the deaf. I fight for my students’ access to education every single day of the year. I need to switch off and so do my students. Access to ‘switching off’ recreational actities is important also.

  5. Alison…

    Many rumours have been going about. Some people did not want to refuse the exemption because they would finally get a cinema in their hometown. It did not matter that the level of access to films was inexcusable. I stood to lose out by protesting the exemption as did many others and yet we did it for the betterment of the WHOLE community, not just a few individuals.

    Some of the people for the exemption were high profile deaf leaders or in a leadership capacity. It is fair to say some put their own needs ahead of the community they were chosen to represent. There were a few angry people when the exmeption was refused and ACOC and certain individuals were told they didn’t know what they were doing, they were stuffing it up for everyone and jeopardising years of work.

    This has been politics at its best and worst. A few people and organisations’ noses got bent out of joint when AHRC refused the exemption for the cinemas. Very few of those people actually congratulated the people behind the campaign, those in the Action on Cinema Access.

    It has even gone as far as being suggested that AOCA should not be a key player in the negotiations or long term planning of cinema access. Some organisations are still going it alone with surveys and collecting data and making decisions without collaborating with each other.

    A lot of ego and fist thumping happening here. They all want to be first in to claim victory. Mutual collaboration and respect, especially for the new kid on the block, ACOC has gone out the window a little.

    Yep the other organisations put in a lot of work. But ACOC has driven a faster turnaround of groundswell support and gotten the attention of AHRC and the government. Their focus is simple and not tainted by funding obligations or other matters.

    Oh well. We will see what happens. Keep up the good work ACOC. Let’s hope you get the respect you deserve and this jealousy and rivalry dissipates from the other organisations.

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