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Captioning rules on TV

When free-to-air broadcasters must show captions

Commercial and national TV broadcasters must caption:

  • all programs on main channels, from 6 am to midnight
  • all news and current affairs programs, at any time
  • programs repeated on a multi-channel if the program was broadcast previously with captions.

Captioning rules for subscription TV licensees

Subscription TV licensees must meet annual captioning targets. The captioning target for a financial year depends on the category of subscription TV service provided by a licensee.

There are 9 categories of subscription TV services: 

  • movie service – comprising 3 sub-categories: movies A, B and C
  • general entertainment service – comprising 3 sub-categories: general entertainment A, B and C 
  • news service
  • sports service
  • music service.

The prescribed captioning targets for subscription TV services are legislated to increase by 5% each year until they reach 100%.

Simultaneously transmitted programs

If a subscription TV licensee simultaneously transmits a program on 2 subscription TV channels, and the program is captioned on one of the channels, the program must also be captioned on the other channel.

Repeat broadcasts

If a subscription TV licensee broadcasts a TV program with captions on any of their channels, captions must appear on any repeat broadcasts of the program on the same channel.

New subscription TV channels

If a subscription TV licensee broadcasts a TV program that is new to Australia, that service may be excluded from meeting the captioning target from the start date of the service until 1 July of the next financial year (that is, at least one year after the start the service, up to a maximum of 2 years).

Captioning quality

Broadcasters also have to follow the Captioning Quality Standard.

Find out more about the Standard in our video, ACMA rules.

We have developed Captioning Quality Guidelines for broadcasters, captioning providers and audiences about our interpretation of key elements in the Standard.

The Guidelines include information on:

  • how captioning quality is determined
  • the timing of when captions appear on screen
  • the style and format of captions that appear on screen. 

Emergency warnings

All broadcasters must show emergency warnings. These must be in text and speech form, with captions when possible. They do not have to include an Auslan interpreter.

If an Auslan interpreter is at a news conference or official briefing about an emergency, licensees should include the Auslan interpreter in the frame of the broadcast where it is practicable to do so.

Further information is available at Free TV's Advisory Note on Broadcast of Emergency Information and ASTRA.

Annual compliance reports

Free-to-air broadcasters and subscription licensees must report on compliance within 90 days after the end of a financial year.

  • Read our guidance notes
  • Free-to-air broadcasters - complete form CAP05
  • Subscription TV licensees  -complete form CAP06

We are required to publish these reports on our website.

Record keeping

Free-to-air broadcasters and subscription licensees must keep records about captioning compliance.

Written records must be kept for 90 days after an annual report has been lodged with us.

Audiovisual records must be kept for:

The reasons for any failure to meet the captioning obligations can be given in annual compliance reports to the ACMA.

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