Northern Ireland

Charity criticises BBC NI decision to scrap sign language provision from live news

BBC Newsline’s sign language summary is only available on the BBC News NI website and app

BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)
BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

A charity has criticised a BBC decision to axe sign language from lunchtime news bulletins.

The broadcaster said the move coincided with Newsline becoming part of an extended 60 minute UK-wide news programme.

The broadcaster said that the language summary will now have a new home on the News NI website and app.

It added that the format, duration and presentation of BBC Newsline’s sign language summary remains unchanged.

People chatting via sign language
People chatting via sign language (Chris Young/PA)

However, Natasha Robinson, Inclusion Policy Adviser at Royal Nation Institute for Deaf people, said the decision was concerning.

“Deaf people have the right to be able to access their programmes and receive information at the same time as hearing people,” she said.

“We’ve already seen from the election announcement where no British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter was present that the deaf community are being locked out.”

More than 300,000 people are deaf, have hearing loss or tinnitus in Northern Ireland.

There are around 4,500 BSL users with a further 1,500 using Irish Sign Language.

Ms Robinson continued: “TV channels and streaming services must do better to include the deaf community and make their programmes accessible for all.

“Broadcasters should not assume that everyone can watch programmes online and we are concerned that the decision to move Newsline to only be available on the website and app in sign language will exclude people who rely on the show for information and current affairs.

“Access to news content is particularly important during a general election where reliable, and up to date information is important for ensuring people do not receive disinformation or fake news.”

In response, a BBC spokesperson reiterated to The Irish News that the only change to BBC Newsline’s lunchtime sign language summary is that it has now transferred to its news website and app.

The added: “It has prominence on the website and we have been signposting its availability each weekday afternoon.

“We understand the importance of this service and are keen to maintain its easy accessibility – serving existing audiences and hopefully reaching new ones as well.”