California Lawsuit Could Become A Problem for TV News Outlets

By Alex Weprin 

A lawsuit filed against CNN from the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness will be moving to trial, and the result could have a serious impact with how TV news outlets present their content online.

In a nutshell, GLAD is arguing that CNN is discriminating against deaf people by not offering closed-captioned versions of its videos on CNN.com. CNN argues that the First Amendment protects its right to present content as it sees fit, and that closed captioning software may mistranslate or produce results not up to its editorial standards.

CNN may be the defendant in this case, but if GLAD wins, it would have a serious impact on all TV news outlets. The result could be a rush to find software that automatically creates captions for videos, a process that would be time-consuming and expensive. Given the sheer number of videos outlets like CNN, ABC, NBC and Fox News place online, as well as pressure to get clips up fast, a mandate on closed-captioning could also open up lawsuits to any news outlet that posts video clips online.

Unlike scripted shows, which are written in advance, news programs often feature interviews and off the cuff commentary, making captions difficult. There is software (and many networks have stenographers) on live TV, but as any viewer has seen, those live captions often miss whole sentences, or mistranslate words.

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