February 5, 2013 by Colin Kelly
Having a baby has taken me to some strange places over the last few months. Like the soft play.
But I’ve also found myself making increasing use of subtitles on television. Michael’s selection of VTech toys (one of which is a caterpillar voiced, I’m convinced, by Joe Pasquale) easily cut right over the top of Susanna Reid on BBC Breakfast.
So if I want an idea of what’s going on in the morning, or a look at the weather, then I’ll put subtitles on while playing with Michael and getting him ready.
And I can’t believe how bad they are.
I’m talking a constant stream of appalling mistakes, which alter the context of the statement beyond recognition. This morning, Lenny Henry revealed that Comic Relief has been really good for ‘loosening peoples’ treasures’, the regional news told me one night an old lady had been attacked ‘for her washing machine’.
Some of the mistakes are funny. Others could be actionable under contempt of court or libel laws.
And I don’t understand why, in this digital age, it has to be like that.
I understand errors are inevitable in live situations where (I assume) a touch typist has to take down ad-libs and off the cuff responses to questions.
But surely in news programmes, if something is being read from an autocue, or a pre recorded report is being played in, there should be a drive for 100% accuracy? Why can’t the machine that plays the report carry a transcript that is fed automatically to the subtitle system?
It seems this would be easy to fix and at the very least, broadcasters should accept that the current subtitle offering is of an unacceptable standard and a new approach is urgently needed.
I should also say despite my background in broadcasting I have no knowledge of how subtitles are produced and so any insight anyone can give into why it is so bad would be appreciated. And please don’t take this as an attack on the subtitle staff who I’m sure do a wonderful job. I just don’t understand why technology can’t make this service more accurate, especially when it comes to pre recorded items or those read off autocue.