What is captioning?
Captioning is the presentation of the audio component of audio-visual content as text on screen: this includes sound effects as well as the spoken word. It is generally intended to assist viewers with a hearing impairment.
Closed captioning is available on most televisions. It is referred to as ‘closed’ as it is not openly broadcast. In Australia, captioning differs from ‘subtitling’, which is the translation into another language of televised audio content, presented as text on screen.
Further information can be found in the Captioning - Behind the Scenes video and the Turning captions on and troubleshooting video.
The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 specifies captioning and related obligations of television services, including the following:
- Commercial and national television services are required to caption the programs broadcast between 6 am and midnight each day on the main channels as well as all the news and current affairs broadcast on the main channels. Programs broadcast on a multi-channel are required to be captioned if the broadcaster has previously broadcast those programs with captions on another television service.
- Subscription television services are required to meet annual captioning targets.
For the 2017–18 financial year (1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018), the captioning targets are between 20 per cent (for music services) and 90 per cent (for most movie services).
- Commercial, national and subscription television services are also required to:
comply with the captioning quality standard made by the ACMA
- transmit emergency warnings in the form of text and speech, and where practicable, caption those warnings
- comply with annual captioning compliance reporting and recordkeeping requirements.
Further information about captioning obligations, including videos about the captioning quality standard and how much television needs to be captioned, can be found on the Captioning compliance page.
Complaints about captioning
The process for making a captioning complaint differs, depending on whether the program was broadcast on commercial television (such as Channel 7, 9 or 10), subscription television (such as Foxtel) or by a national broadcaster (ABC or SBS):
- If you have a complaint about captioning of a television program broadcast on commercial or subscription television (for example, there are no captions or the quality of captions does not meet the Television Captioning Quality Standard), you may complain directly to the ACMA by completing the online complaints form.
- If you have a complaint about captioning of a television program broadcast on the ABC or SBS (for example there are no captions or the quality of captions does not meet the Television Captioning Quality Standard), you need to complain to the national broadcaster first.
Further information about the complaints process, including videos about how to make a complaint, can be found on the Complaints about captioning page. You can also download our captioning complaints brochure.
Exemption orders and target reduction orders
If a television service provider believes that meeting its captioning obligations would cause it unjustifiable hardship, it may apply to the ACMA for an exemption order or a target reduction order. The ACMA is required to assess each application based on the criteria specified in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.