TV news should have English subtitles, panel says


Staff Writer

Japanese TV broadcasters should introduce English subtitles in news programs by 2020 in light of an expected increase in the number of foreign visitors ahead of the Tokyo Olympics that year, according to an expert panel at the communications ministry.

“Subtitled television programs would serve as one of the most effective tools” to help foreign residents and tourists understand developments, the panel said Friday in a report.

The panel urged broadcasters to put English captions on news bulletins because they provide information related to people’s “safety and security.” The panel members said this should be done by 2020 “at the latest.”

They said the service should then be rolled out to other languages and other types of programming, such as sports and culture, as warranted.

The panel said broadcasters should adopt a multi-language approach, citing a translation system developed by the government-affiliated National Institute of Information and Communications Technology.

Broadcasters would submit text to the system, and viewers would see the subtitles displayed on Internet-enabled TV sets.

The panel said the system needs further improvements before it can accurately reflect on-screen narration. These include developing its database of possible phrases.

The ministry plans to start a trial run of the TV subtitle service in fiscal 2015.

The 12-member panel, headed by Dokkyo University law professor Kazuteru Tagaya, also proposed promoting the use of closed captions in Japanese in TV commercials for viewers with hearing difficulties.

Very few commercials offer closed captions, even though 93.3 percent of TV programs by private broadcasters and 83.5 percent by NHK had captions as of fiscal 2012, the panel said.

  • tholan

    should be irritating to those watching TV

    • phu

      I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but closed captioning in the US has been an optional thing for decades… this is not a technical challenge. It’s a problem of willingness and interest, and neither is present in Japan; why would they want to spend time and money to do this when the overwhelming majority of foreigners in the country at any given time — and especially for the Olympics — will only be there for a week or two?

      This is just another case of “well, someone SHOULD do something, but we’re not going to MAKE them, so we’re just going to ask nicely, and give some reasoning why we think that gee, it’d be nice if people listened.” It’s not actual effort; it’s the appearance of actually wanting progress, for certain definitions of wanting and progress.

      Frankly, if they wanted to make TV programming available in [insert non-Japanese language here], they’d have done it already. This strikes me as one of two things: A ploy to squeeze more jobs out of the Olympics or a cleverly-disguised attempt to push internationalization into gear. Whether it’s the former or not, I very, very, seriously doubt it’s the latter.

  • Ron NJ

    Great, now everyone in the world can know how oishii this random tabemono is. That’s way more important than shoring up human rights issues or stamping out legalized discrimination!

    • Mike Wyckoff

      I would much prefer laws be translated as those are way more important and far more ambiguous than “oishi” lol
      by the way, why the hell do they subtitle when people say certain words, such as OISHII !!! and TANOSHII!!!

  • Squidhead

    It might be a nice job for future translators.

    • phu

      It might be, but according to the article, their intention is to use an existing automated service to handle the translation… so not only will it not employ people long-term (i.e. past the point where they believe they have enough stock phrases for it to be accurate), it might as well be Google Translate’s delinquent kouhai, i.e. almost entirely unintelligible.

      • Mike Wyckoff

        True!! Haha!

  • VeryOldB

    A post-modern existential dilemma of the highest order.

  • michichan

    I am not sure what the overall ad market would be for a 24×7 English language radio station in the Tokyo market. Inter-FM 76.1 does play a lot of Western music and I believe they do have a few English language newscasts throughout the day. You also mentioned Eagle 810, the local AFN station which does broadcast some vital information but still, they are not even connected to the JMA’s Earthquake Early Warning system (from one time I inquired awhile back). There used to be an English language program on Chuo-FM 80.0 a couple of years ago. I was a guest on that show. Of course, there are many sources on the Internet including Japan Times and J1 Radio. I would love to see at least a daily programming block of English programming on one of the Tokyo area radio stations (trust me, if I was better funded, I would try to make it happen.).