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Apr 03 2013

Ofcom step in to enforce subtitles on Sky channelsOfcom have stepped in to enforce a requirement on BSkyB to provide subtitles on their own channels available on Freesat.

Mark Beer, a joinfreesat reader, who suffers from a hearing impairment, lodged a complaint with Ofcom follow failed attempts to communicate directly with BSkyB (and freesat) in reference to DVB subtitles being missing from BSkyB owned channels, Sky News, PickTV and Challenge. These three channels launched on freesat back in December 2012 and have still to this date not implemented the required subtitles in accordance with Ofcom ‘Code on TV Access Services'; yet they are available on Sky, Virgin Media and Freeview.

The successful outcome of this being that Ofcom have forced BSkyB to comply with an expected launch of the end of this month after testing, so anyone who likes to watch these channels and suffer from hearing impairments, or maybe have these channels on in noisy surroundings where the subtitles are needed, you can thank Mark Beer for his persistence.

A copy of Mark’s original communication can be found below (dated 26 January 2013), followed by Ofcom’s response:

I wish to make a complaint regarding a broadcaster who I believe is in beach of the OFCOM Code on TV Access Services.

On 3rd December 2012, BSkyB officially began broadcasting three of its channels on the Freesat satellite platform; Sky News, PickTV and Challenge. By the ‘Freesat’ title, I am NOT referring to the ‘Freesat from Sky’ service but instead the joint-venture ‘Freesat’ service (BBC/ITV).

All of these channels (Sky News, PickTV, and Challenge) are required to broadcast subtitles as per the OFCOM Code on TV Access Services. On other TV platforms (Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media) these channels do indeed broadcast the subtitles as they are required to do so. However on the Freesat platform, these subtitles are completely absence.

From the first day (03/12/12) that these BSkyB channels were available via the Freesat service, they did not include any subtitles output and unfortunately to this date they still do not broadcast any subtitles on these channel (via the Freesat platform).

It is important to note that the official means of broadcasting subtitles is via a technology standard know as ‘DVB Subtitles’ (international standard for video broadcasting) and this means is used on the Freeview, Freesat and Virgin Media platforms. BSkyB chose not to follow the industry standard of DVB Subtitles, and instead implemented the older technology of ‘teletext’ subtitles into their set-top boxes (therefore broadcasters have to output a different kind of digital subtitles stream on the Sky platform).

When these channels first arrived on the Freesat platform, I attempted to contact BSkyB regarding the subtitles fault however I was unable to use the main customer services route as I did not have a subscriber account number. It was very frustrating as I attempted several times to contact BSkyB but each time was informed that I need an account number in order for my enquiry to be dealt with. So instead I informed Freesat so that they could informed BSkyB of their subtitles fault. I was unable to contact Freesat directly so I contacted them via their online community forums, to which I did receive a response from a Freesat staff member (please see here: http://community.freesat.co.uk/t5/Channels-On-Demand/Missing-Subtitles-on-Sky-News-PickTV-Challenge/m-p/938) that they will inform BSkyB of the technical fault.

However after 7 weeks of no change, I decided to try contacting BSkyB again and had no luck in getting past the account-number required stage. When I attempted to make a complaint via the OFCOM website, I noticed a contact email address to the BSkyB Accessible Customer Services. So I sent them an email and finally got a response from BSkyB!. Sadly it was not the response I expected, as they denied any fault and advised me to contact Freesat. Except this is clearly the wrong knowledge as Freesat does not actually broadcast the TV services, and each broadcaster is responsible for ensuring their own channels are outputting the relevant TV Access Services as per the OFCOM Code.

Could I please request that OFCOM look further into this matter? Specifically the lack of DVB-subtitles on the BSkyB channels broadcasting via the Freesat platform (PickTV – ch144, Challenge – ch 145, Sky News – ch 202).

Also if you do conclude that BSkyB was found to be breach of the OFCOM Code on TV Access Services, please can it be noted that BSkyB failed to fully broadcast the TV access services for these channel from 03/12/12 to present day. Therefore the recorded annual target achieved should take this into account, otherwise it is discriminating that Freesat viewers were denied the TV access services that should have been implemented from the first day.

Ofcom response (dated 2 April 2013)

Many thanks for your further e-mail on the issue of subtitling on the relevant Sky channels on the Freesat platform. Following your e-mail I forwarded a request to Sky for their comments on the matter which were delayed in coming back to us. In the end they responded on the 13 March since when your case has been logged on to our system and has been awaiting our response to you. Therefore I apologise for the delay in responding to you on this matter since we received Sky response but I hope you find the following of use. As stated your case has now been logged on to our systems under the following reference number: (removed)

In your original complaint to Ofcom you outlined that Sky News, Pick TV and Challenge did not carry subtitling on the Freesat platform. In this you correctly pointed out that these channels have an obligation to provide subtitling under the Code on Television Access Services and do make these available on the BSkyB, Virgin and Freeview platforms. You also outline that you have tried to bring the issue to the attention of Sky both directly and though Freesat but had no acceptance of the issue nor a resolution form either route. Therefore I am pleased to say that following the case being forwarded to Sky by us they have now offered a time frame for resolving the error.

In their response Sky outlined that an oversight at the time of the channels launch had lead to the omission from subtitles from the transmission of these channels on the Freesat platform. They went on to say that as a matter of urgency they began testing of subtitles in the live environment and are on schedule to have these available by the end of this month. Given this undertaking we shall be liaising with Sky over the coming weeks for an update on this process and should this timetable not be meet we will consider what further action should be taken against them to ensure compliance.

Finally I was sorry to learn that this issue had been raised to Sky by yourself prior to you bringing it to our attention and that it was only this escalation which seemed to have resulted in Sky rectifying the problem. Therefore I would like to thank you for taking the time to persist with this as it would seem a resolution to the matter should be in place in the coming weeks.

42 Responses to “Ofcom step in to enforce subtitles on Sky channels”

  1. Shaun Says:

    Absolutely disgusting that Sky treated this chap the way they did. Refusing to answer his question and having to be “forced” to provide a basic service for people with hearing difficulties. Sky are clearly a morally bankrupt company and are only interested in the colour of your money. In this day and age I find it so upsetting that businesses can still put up so many barriers for people when they don’t need to.

    I’m glad OfCom sorted them out, would have been nice if Sky had attempted an apology though.

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  2. ian Says:

    Well done buddy, well done indeed.
    Agreed with the poster above too, thats you went to Sky and they brushed you away and then when Ofcom get involved, do they squirm and tow the line like they are legally required to do so.
    But as a measure to prevent this again, Sky should be sanctioned for this.
    Also, the stupid roadblocks in making complaints to Sky is still a bone of contention as unless you’re a subscriber, its hard to get anything through.
    Well done though and glad they have been put into line!

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  3. paulie walnuts Says:

    Well done Mr Beer, Cap doffed. Great result & it kind of tells people about Sky’s regard for the viewing public.

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  4. Brian Damage Says:

    Thank-you Mr. Beer.

    Your efforts are much appreciated.

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  5. Neil Says:

    Excellent work there Mark, I take my hat off to you and 1-0 against the wrath that is BSkyB!

    I too complained about this very same issue, firstly to Sky via their Customer Services and then to Ofcom neither whom didn’t get back to me. Sky’s CS brushed me off saying that subtitling was working fine, yes on their platform but it wasn’t getting through to them what platform I was watching the services on and quoted freesatfromsky! I was eventually sidelined and threatened them with Ofcom intervention, they refusing to reply to my emails even after this threat was levied.

    I did email Ofcom’s accessibility email address last Month and to be honest had been so busy work-wise that I’d forgotten to follow this up so thank you as it will save me taking the same issue up. Your upheld complaint will now act as a benchmark for future channel launches on the platform and especially where Sky are concerned should any +1 variants appear (I guess only if they are forced to!).

    Whilst we’re on the issue of subtitling there’s a bug whereby no subtitle flagging appears to work on my Panasonic 2009 TV’s or PVR for either BBC HD services + ITV HD. C4HD is fine and ITV HD was also fine but going to work on that one with freesat as the actual subtitles are transmit, it’s just never showing on these HD channels within the EPG environment.

    Viacom now need a tap on the shoulder as Viva has launched and has subtitling requirements and should comply. I guess we give them a bit of time to put DVB subs in to place before giving a gentle reminder!

    Once again Mark, good work there.

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  6. Mark B Says:

    Thanks guys! It does feel a bit of little achievement that a result/solution is finally upon us, especially since its taken more than four months.

    Neil – I’m already ahead of you! I sent off a message to VIVA (via their website contact form) regarding the lack of DVB subtitles on Freesat. Furthermore, I mentioned this to my contact at OFCOM who is currently dealing with the BSkyB issue – and he said he will look into this issue as well :-) I am assuming it is because it is the exact same issue with BSkyB channels, so therefore not exactly a new investigation. Hopefully we will see a quicker response/fix than it is taking BSkyB to resolve.

    Also if you have already contacted OFCOM, I would urge you to chase it up. As even through the action is now being enforced, it will only enhance the case if there is multiple people in the complaint (especially when OFCOM reviews the outcome of a case, more complaints will no doubt make clear how wide spread the fault affected viewers).

    PS – my Freesat setup is with a Humax Foxsat HDR, so I don’t think I can help much with the Panasonic problem. What do you exactly mean by “subtitle flagging”? Is it the ‘[S]‘ notification within EPG programme descriptions?

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  7. Neil Says:

    Hi Mark,

    Did you fill the online complaints form or send an email directly?
    http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/tell-us/tv-and-radio/subtitling-signing-or-audio-description/

    If you look here there’s a full list of channels which are obliged to carry subtitling. Most of these are behind paywalls but Viva is included, guess you’ve already seen this though.
    http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/broadcasting/guidance/other-guidance/tv_access_serv/tv-access-statement-13

    In regards to the EPG subtitling issue it’s the actual subtitle flagging within the EPG banner that isn’t showing. Along the banner when a channel is selected the word ‘Subtitles’ should appear, for some odd reason this doesn’t appear on the BBC HD channels or ITV HD, all other SD services show up fine. ITV’s did work for a while but now has stopped, outside of the FS EPG environment (i.e. in ‘non freesat mode) the DVB subtitle flagging works fine on the TV so it’s some change freesat have made with ITV HD which is causing an issue with Panasonic TV’s. This is the same with the BBC HD services although I’ve never to this day seen the subtitle flag on BBC One HD or BBC HD/Two HD. I did take this up with Freesat but hit a brick wall too as they don’t understand the technicalities!

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  8. Bob H Says:

    Well done Mark, this is quite timely as I was at my mother’s house over Easter and I noticed the lack of subtitles (wife and mother were chatting away and I wanted assistance from subs). Even for those without hearing impairments subtitles can be useful, so thanks again.

    Bob

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  9. Chris S Says:

    Wow! Impressed.

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  10. Richard Crichton Says:

    Ofcom should had known and done it without having to be told. Lazy useless bar stewards. :D

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  11. Richard Crichton Says:

    Richard Crichton said:
    Ofcom should had known and done it without having to be told. Lazy useless bar stewards.

    Do they just sit around all day waiting for people to complain. Don’t they monitor anything?

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  12. Mark B Says:

    Neil said:
    Did you fill the online complaints form or send an email directly?
    http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/tell-us/tv-and-radio/subtitling-signing-or-audio-description/

    Hi Neil

    I actually sent an email (from that page at bottom) as I tried to use the online form, but I had so much information that I found typing up an email was easier!

    Thanks for the list of channel required for TV Access Services. Yep I already knew about this and it’s what I use to find which channels fall into this requirement.

    For anybody who is intrested in viewing details about the OFCOM Code on TV Access Services, everything is online at:
    http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/broadcasting/broadcast-codes/tv-access-services/
    It was originally put together by the ITC (Independent Television Commission) before OFCOM was formed.

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  13. Neil Says:

    No worries, it’s worth keeping an eye on as all channels are required by their Ofcom licensing to do a percentage of AD and subtitling based on BARB reach, this grows as a percentage per year which increases. It looks like Viva may have only recently gone over the threshold hence why they have subtitles, interestingly if some of the UKTV channels do come to freesat they’ll be expected to provide DVB subtitling too.

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  14. Kate Says:

    This is terrible who at Freesat allowed Sky channels onto the EPG without subtitles?

    Freesat should have told Sky to sort things out before allowing them to go live on the EPG.

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  15. Martin Says:

    Well done. That’s a great result

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  16. Penny Crayon Says:

    Consumer 1 – Sky 0.

    “Congratulations to Mark for his ownership of this problem.
    AND for once one of our regulators OFCOM has actually done something to STOP Sky in its tracks”

    “It’s a shame no one else either in the government or the regulators has stepped up to the plate previously”

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  17. Paul S Says:

    Great work Mark-you got the service that you are entitled to and beat the greedy,money grabbing,sharks at S*Y.More power to you mate!

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  18. Richard Crichton Says:

    Paul S said:
    Great work Mark-you got the service that you are entitled to and beat the greedy,money grabbing,sharks at S*Y.More power to you mate!

    Indeed great work Mark but don’t forget Sly get free advertising on a rivals platform and BBCiPlayer in return for their pathetic channels so it’s no skin off their nose to enable sub titles at the end of the day. I blame Ofcon for not doing their job properly in the first place. All channels appearing on new platforms should be monitored for compliance but that would be too hard for them to do.

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  19. Richard Crichton Says:

    Just think if Freesat ran some channels and got them carried on the Sly platform and then ran adverts for Freesat every 10 minutes. Do you think Sly would allow that for one minute. It just wouldn’t happen but no doubt Freesat would give their left arm so to speak to enable that. Yet Freesat are perfectly happy to allow Sly to show their adverts which basically say don’t bother with Freesat Sky is better every 10 minutes in return for three barker channels.

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  20. Bill Says:

    H

    Subtitles are not always available on channel 5 Channels can something not be done about this.

    bill

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  21. Jim Says:

    Mark, well done! Thanks for pursuing this for us all. The accessibility rules are there for a reason. Now Sky and others have no excuse to “accidentally” cock up in the future.

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  22. Alison Fairgrieve Says:

    Congratulations and full agreement about the miserable Sky services.

    Can anyone tell me why Welsh programmes do not have subtitles although Alba (Scots Gaelic ) does? There are sometimes interesting programmes on both channels.

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  23. mediaman Says:

    There soap opera Pobol y Cwm has subtitles and some sporting events. Alba used to have subtitles on their news but not anymore which is a pity as their news programme is far better than BBC Scotland’s local output of recent years. I guess subtitles in gaelic on a live show are difficult to keep up with the speaker. Both channels have good material and more subtitles are always welcome.

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  24. Vincent Wakeling Says:

    I don’t know whom and where digital channels getting subtitles from on News and Sports or anything subtitles got live TV programme what’s they shouldn’t do come to deafness because lots of words seems to go missing and spelling mistakes not good for any deaf watched the live televisions programmes got subtitles goes wrong. Only way to helps the deaf come to any televisions programmes showing on widescreen is make sure they not live and gets colours subtitles neatly on widescreen staying between bottom widescreen from start to finish helping the profoundly deaf peoples properly. Also make sure subtitles getting lots of different colours when different peoples talking on widescreen and different colours background for different background sounds helping the deaf for clue and make it easy for the deaf to follow staying between bottom widescreen catch words on colours subtitles from start to finish getting better view pictures helping the deaf.

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  25. admin Says:

    I assume the case in point is being highlighted in the way you have structured your comment?

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  26. Amanda, Brighton Says:

    Well done Mark!
    I notice that PickTV have subtitles on Freesat as of yesterday.
    When I had Freesat via a Sky box, the EPG highlighted subtitled programmes in yellow – a very handy feature. In 2009 I asked Freesat whether they could have a similar feature & they said they would pass my request onto the company who manages Freesat’s EPG. I didn’t hear anything more.

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  27. Neil Says:

    Amanda, Brighton said:
    Well done Mark!
    I notice that PickTV have subtitles on Freesat as of yesterday.
    When I had Freesat via a Sky box, the EPG highlighted subtitled programmes in yellow – a very handy feature. In 2009 I asked Freesat whether they could have a similar feature & they said they would pass my request onto the company who manages Freesat’s EPG. I didn’t hear anything more.

    Just checked and can see them myself although no subtitle flagging showing on the EPG yet. Interestingly the font size is a tad bigger and there’s some background transparency too which on all other channels isn’t there. I quite like the transparency as you can still see underneath.

    I notice the Box channels also have subtitling although not on Ofcom’s TV Access Services list (apart from 4Music) so whilst would be good if they all had DVB subtitles it isn’t a requirement until 4Music alone joins.

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  28. Neil Says:

    Challenge now broadcasting DVB subtitles, only Sky News remains without. Presumably Viva will also have them in due course.

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  29. Neil Says:

    Looks like Sky News also now has DVB subs, font and size looks better than Challenge and Pick TV, more in tune with other PSB’s subs. Glad to see a nice victory here, definitely 1-0 to the consumer and FS (against Sky!).

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  30. Sian Says:

    Well done! Does this cover absence of subtitles for some programmes – for example, if some episodes of a series seem to be missing subtitles completely despite being listed as having them? Tends to be Sky Living programmes – I have complained by email to Sky soooo many times that I fear I’m now being ignored. Each time, Sky apologise but don’t ensure it doesn’t happen again. Frustrating!

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  31. Donald Says:

    Where do you people like Mark get off. While I believe in fair conduct for all, surely it is down to the company themselves, Sky, to decide how the service is delivered to customers.
    Although Ofcom have stepped in to resolve, they should not have been involved, in my opinion, as they are as corrupt as the company they went after. That is the same as me asking RBS to investigate Goldman Sachs collapse. I think you all know what the answer would be?
    Whilst, I welcome what you did, I think you blew the whole issue completely out of proportion, and just because you are impaired in some way, it is not a God given right to request companies, or anybody, to raise or lower themselves to your level.
    Live with your disability and stop ensuring people need to meet your expectations. Find other channels to watch might have been the easier option in this case.

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  32. admin Says:

    Donald said:
    Where do you people like Mark get off. While I believe in fair conduct for all, surely it is down to the company themselves, Sky, to decide how the service is delivered to customers.Although Ofcom have stepped in to resolve, they should not have been involved, in my opinion, as they are as corrupt as the company they went after. That is the same as me asking RBS to investigate Goldman Sachs collapse. I think you all know what the answer would be?
    Whilst, I welcome what you did, I think you blew the whole issue completely out of proportion, and just because you are impaired in some way, it is not a God given right to request companies, or anybody, to raiseor lower themselves to your level.
    Live with your disability and stop ensuring people need to meet your expectations. Find other channels to watch might have been the easier option in this case.

    Pretty nasty response there Donald, and your comparison is irrelevant, Ofcom regulate the television industry, where as RBS have nothing to do with governing Goldman Sachs!!!

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  33. Donald Says:

    @admin it was a comparison not an actual real-life situation. Ofcom regulate the TV industry yet we still get adverts with audio above the standard TV programmes. Now tell me again who isn’t corrupt. Fill the pockets of Ofcom me thinks

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  34. admin Says:

    Donald said:
    @admin it was a comparison not an actual real-life situation. Ofcom regulate the TV industry yet we still get adverts with audio above the standard TV programmes. Now tell me again who isn’t corrupt. Fill the pockets of Ofcom me thinks

    That’s fair enough, but your issue appears to be with Ofcom, not Mark for simply requesting something to make his life better, irrespective of whether he has a disability or not.

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  35. Lesley Martin Says:

    hi
    I am profoundly deaf and rely on subtitles on all programmes and I am more than grateful to Mark for his efforts. I have contacted Sky but have had no response regarding catch up tv. I bought the sky on demand box (9.99) and it is a wonderful little gadget but I never thought that it would not have any subtitles on it. That is the glory of BBC on their I player and all tablets you can get subtitles. I am told that not only the deaf these days rely on subtitles, many hearing people need to use them because of poor sound qualities and background

    lesley

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  36. andy Says:

    I am profoundly deaf and totally rely on subtitles.

    I can just image the national outcry if any broadcaster refused to transmit sound as it was not cost effective…………..we pay our tv licence the same as
    everybody else and expect the same level of service and enjoyment through programming. keep up the good work offcom.

    I have freesat but have been thinking about a sky subscription for a broader selection of HD channels, if all the channels on sky entertainment extra+ support subtitling then it would be worth my £32 pounds a month if they don’t then it would be an expensive mistake…. decisions decisions

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  37. Amanda, Brighton Says:

    I’m afraid the subtitles have disappeared from Pick TV & Challenge over the past week. I’ve emailed Sky.

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  38. Amanda Says:

    Sky have responded by saying there isn’t a problem their end & suggest a full reset.

    Having performed a full reset prior to emailing Sky & seeing from various forums that others have the same problem, I think this sounds like a disinterested cop-out.

    Not sure where to go from here. Maybe Freesat or Ofcom.

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  39. Amanda Says:

    I emailed Sky’s Ofcom licensing address (obtained from Ofcom) & cc’d Ofcom. Didn’t receive an acknowledgment, but the subtitles on all Sky’s Freesat channels reappeared last Friday evening.

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  40. Sue Griffiths Says:

    @ Donald.
    The deaf and hard of hearing are quite used to being treated as second class citizens. It is about time that we complained so we can be treated the same as people without disabilities. We pay our licence money too. Your remark to Mark was incredibly rude, ignorant and totally selfish. You seem to have an I’m all right Jack attitude , and bugger everyone else. There are many things in life that the deaf and hard of hearing are excluded from, but tv at least should be one form of enjoyment that should be available to us. I sincerely hope that you become hard of hearing and maybe then you will realise what an utter jerk you have been

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  41. Amanda Says:

    Subtitles again disappeared from Pick, Challenge & Sky News channels on Freesat last November. I emailed Sky (AccessibleCustomerService@BSkyB.com) & subtitles were promptly reinstated.

    Once again subtitles have disappeared from Pick TV (probably due to the current swap of transmitting satellites) & I have emailed Sky again. Surely Sky would monitor this recurrent problem, particularly as OFCOM are now keeping stats on subtitling absence?

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  42. sky customer service contact number uk Says:

    Really this is annoying fact .For some people who are profoundly deaf and rely on subtitles on all programmes should have the option to start the subtitles. I have contacted Sky but have had no response regarding catch up tv. I bought the sky on demand box (9.99) and it is a wonderful little gadget but I never thought that it would not have any subtitles on it. That is the glory of BBC on their I player and all tablets you can get subtitles. I am told that not only the deaf these days rely on subtitles, many hearing people need to use them because of poor sound qualities and background.

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