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.