Icasa hearing highlights the fight for access to information

People with hearing impairments are waiting for the outcome of a court case against the country’s communications authority.

Judgment has been reserved in the court case between the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities  (NCPD) and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

The Pretoria High Court yesterday was asked to consider how people with hearing impairments access information on news events and important announcements, as the NCPD took on Icasa’s Code for Persons with Disabilities 2021.

“Icasa’s code, issued on April 9, 2021, mandates closed captioning and subtitles for broadcast media. However, the regulations do not require open captioning and open subtitles. This omission leaves households without real-time access to captions or subtitles during live television broadcasts, including breaking news and public announcements,” the NCPD’s national director, Therina Wentzel, explained yesterday.

According to Icasa, court participants yesterday faced numerous obstacles that shed light on the difficulties faced by persons with hearing impairments.

The courtroom’s sound system posed a significant challenge, making it difficult for participants to hear proceedings. In addition, dim lighting conditions made lip-reading a struggle.

Icasa says the judge acknowledged the group’s difficulties by halting proceedings, showing sensitivity to their needs. An invitation for one participant to move closer was also made, as people relying on lip-reading needed to be close to the lip-speaker practitioner. The judge also allowed the group to sit near the legal desks.

Wentzel said that Advocate Emma Webber, representing persons with hearing impairments, ‘eloquently stated their case’.

She said Icasa’s advocate focused on the contention that Icasa’s role is to call for and consider comments, and not necessarily incorporate all comments into the code.

“The participants argued that their comments aimed to align Icasa with the Constitutional right of people to access information and communication. They sought to address the current communication gaps within the code, rather than merely advancing their own comments.

“Icasa’s advocate insisted that the case should be dismissed, emphasising that the correct procedure for changing the code should be followed.”

Webber, in her closing remarks, emphasised Icasa’s responsibility to ensure inclusion in broadcasting, highlighting that access to information and communication is a Constitutional right.

The judge, acknowledging the complexity of technical points, reserved judgment, emphasising her responsibility to consider whether people’s rights are being upheld. The court was adjourned.

Read original story on www.citizen.co.za

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