Auslan on TV

Auslan on TV

Deaf Australia has been advocating for many years for Auslan on TV.

Auslan on emergency news broadcasts

Some state governments now provide Auslan interpreters on emergency broadcasts. The first time this occurred was during the 2011 Brisbane floods. However, sometimes Deaf people still have to contact government authorities to ask them to include Auslan interpreters during emergency broadcasts; this happened most recently during the NSW bushfire emergency in October 2013. In January 2014 we wrote to all state and territory governments and to the Australian Government requesting that they put in place procedures so that authorities automatically include an Auslan interpreter in emergency broadcasts.


Auslan on TV News programs

In 2011 and 2012 we made proposals to SBS for their evening World News program to have an Auslan interpreter on screen. We also made a proposal to the ABC for their Behind the News program to have an Auslan interpreter on screen. Neither proposal was successful. SBS did agree to include Auslan in the list of languages that they ‘should’ support and suggested that they might include Auslan in their online content, but to date they have not agreed to include Auslan on mainstream TV.


National Deaf TV project (NDTV)

The National Deaf TV project was established in 1998 by a Deaf man; Tony Clews. During his travels overseas, Tony was impressed by the availability and quality of national television programs for Deaf people in the UK and Europe. This inspired him to work towards establishing similar TV programs for Deaf Australians.

The Project was formally established as a Deaf Australia sub-committee at its Annual General Meeting in 1999. The group became inactive in 2008. However, the need for a National Deaf TV program still exists.

The aim of NDTV was to have a regular Deaf TV program on national television in Australia, with Auslan (Australian Sign Language), captions and voice-overs to make it accessible for everyone.


Sign Language has been in Australia since the Second Fleet (1790), yet there is still no major TV program in Auslan for Deaf Australians, their families and friends, and other interested people.

In Australia, there are at least 16,000 Deaf Australians whose primary language is Auslan. These people have family members and friends who also use Auslan, thereby increasing the number of people who use this language. Deaf Australians do not see themselves as disabled. Rather, they identify themselves as members of a cultural and linguistic minority group known as the Australian Deaf community.

To access information, hearing people read newspapers and magazines, listen to radio and TV, which are largely in English. Because English is a second language for many Deaf people, the language is either inaccessible or difficult to comprehend. The most equitable way to fully inform Deaf people, at a level equal to hearing people, is to present information visually in Auslan on TV.

Information broadcast in Auslan will empower Deaf people, foster the development of identity and self-esteem among young people as well as raise awareness of the Deaf community, its language and culture in the wider community. Parents and families of Deaf children from all over Australia would also find this a valuable resource.

Moreover, Australia has one of the most diverse populations in the world. TV programs produced in Australia should reflect this in order to inform, educate and entertain, including programs made by Deaf people.

Countries including Denmark, Germany, South Africa, Sweden, UK and USA have TV programs made for Deaf people by Deaf people. Other countries include sign language as part of their news broadcasts. Why not Australia?

Here are some facts extracted from SBS’ Annual Report 2000-01:

  • SBS TV broadcast 57% of its programs in languages other than English, but not Auslan.
  • SBS Radio is broadcast in 68 languages, but Deaf people cannot access radio.

Likewise, the ABC’s Charter states that their broadcasting programs … contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of the Australian community”.

How can the Deaf community gain a sense of national identity and be informed when none of the programs on ABC TV are shown in Auslan to reflect this aspect of the cultural diversity of Australia?

Further, ABC’s Corporate Plan 2001-2004 Vision: …enrich the lives of all Australians by offering a greater choice of programs that inform, educate and entertain.”

The reality is that the Deaf community has no choice where its native language, Auslan is concerned.

What will Deaf TV programs include?

It is envisaged that Deaf TV programs will be produced infotainment-style in Auslan. Such programs will include:

  • Interviews
  • Weekly news
  • Education
  • Children’s segments
  • Cooking
  • Mini-drama series
  • Entertainment forums
  • Travel
  • International Deaf TV program segments
  • Song signing
  • Stories of Deaf people in indigenous cultures
  • Excerpts from Deaf events all over the world

NDTV Activities

Proposals submitted to SBS and ABC so far have been rejected. Both broadcasters claimed that the cost of producing a Deaf TV program was too high.

In late 2005, the NDTV sub-committee was offered an opportunity by TVS, the newly re-established Channel 31 community broadcaster. A few extra people joined the team, filling our number up to eight and we began producing ‘Signpost’, a half hourly magazine program in Auslan.



SignpostSignPost was a magazine series made in Auslan (Australian Sign Language) by a team of Deaf and hearing volunteers that was broadcast in five Australian cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth) on their respective community channels, known as Channel 31.

The program developed from a Sydney focus into a nationally relevant series. The programs were mainly magazine episodes that covered the spectrum of the Deaf community, their families and friends. SignPost allowed Deaf Australians to tell their stories in their own way. These included engaging human interest stories from performance pieces and theatre through to sports, and ranging from profile pieces through to current affairs segments about pertinent subjects such as genetic engineering.

Six half hour episodes in 2006 marked the first year of production and saw a constant improvement in production values and stories. This was recognised when the team won ‘Program of the Year’ in June 2007 at the national community television awards, 2007 Truelocal Antenna Awards.

2007 saw a new strand, ‘SignPost Extra’ added to the offerings, in the form of relevant, high quality content licenced from overseas productions. The first of these this year was a fifty-two minute documentary that follows the official recognition of New Zealand Sign Language, ‘Sign of the Times’. Three programs were produced in 2007.

As well as financial and administrative support from Deaf Australia, SignPost counted among its sponsors the Australian Caption Centre (now Red Bee Media) and the Australian Communication Exchange, demonstrating industry and stakeholder partnerships.