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BBC newsreaders told to read out URLS, phone numbers for blind viewers

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Vaughan | 11:06 UK time, Friday, 20 February 2009

A seemingly routine internal email sent by Peter Horrocks, the head of the BBC newsroom, to TV news presenters ended up at the centre of a big news story yesterday.

The subject of the memo was the increasing number of web addresses, email addresses and phone numbers that are broadcast during programmes, which are used to direct viewers back to the BBC News website. In the message, Peter Horrocks asked that these details should now be read out in full, and that the phrase "as you can see on your screens" should be avoided. Why? Because this behaviour excludes blind and visually impaired people from receiving this information, and is discourteous.

In no time at all, the story had been picked up by newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph - BBC newsreaders told to read out phone numbers to avoid offending the blind - and The Guardian, as they reported that Horrocks had had to step in and defend the move after it was labelled in some quarters as an example of "political correctness gone mad".

On the BBC News Editors blog, you can read Peter Horrocks' post about this issue, in which he denies the accusation of political correctness, and points out that this change "is not about avoiding causing offence. It's about information and how to access it". He goes on to mention that audience figures for the BBC News at Six on BBC One show that 21% of viewers have a disability of some kind, and that the directive is part of the BBC's commitment to help disabled people use their services.

So what do you think? Do you welcome this move? Was the lack of email addresses, web addresses and phone numbers being read out something that concerned you? And what about the idea that referring to details being shown on the screen is discourteous? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.


  • Comment number 1.

    Not everyone sits and watches their televsion
    Not everyone has the time
    red things out so hat people checking the news whilst doing the housework, studying or whatever can get the info
    Its not just for VIs people
    and also what about people who are not visually impaired , just sitting over the other side of the room from the TV so they can't see numbers on the screen
    read info out for them

  • Comment number 2.

    Well, yes, TV Broadcsat News has been broadcasting on the assumption that information on the screen is accessible.

    I'm still waiting for the News Teams to stop using the cliched phrase "dialogue of the deaf" for example just this month has appeared. Bet that didn't get signed on the News Channel.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm interested to see how the beeb will deal with URLs such as,40/2009-05-01x2009-06-30/fly-cruise/ (to pick one at random from tabs I have open).

    A service like might be the best way forward? Though I guess relying on a 3rd party service wouldn't be desirable in the long run.

    Can we expect to see in future?

  • Comment number 4.

    Most of the URLs are not direct links to pages but to sections or sites of their own accord.

    Where possible yes these should be read out, it takes a couple of seconds.

    A better solution however could be to just have a page where all BBC shows for the day are listed along with all the URLs, hat way they only need read it out once.

  • Comment number 5.

    Sounds like a good idea to me.

  • Comment number 6.

    The resort by certain parties in predictable areas of the media to shallow terms like 'political correctness gone mad' is certainly no surprise, and reflects very badly on levels of professional awareness and etiquette in those particular bastians of knowledge and wisdom. This is not to say, however, that there are not serious contradictions and compromises to be addressed. My major concern (as a blind person) is that we find a workable and flexible solution to this genuine problem. BoilerBloke hits the nail crisply on the head in raising the question of long URLs. I think the approach generally taken by the Radio 4 Today programme, which is to go beyond simply giving the top line URL but to go to between 2 and 3 levels down is about right, with the further advice to "click on the link to......"

    We (as visually impaired consumers) need to recognise that we are choosing to avail ourselves of a medium which was and still is intended to be seen. We are not yet at the stage where the medium itself is referred to as telecasting (though, with improvements in audio description, subtitling and BSL video content this might one day happen).
    Until it does, I would urge a healthy respect for the power of evolution rather than a slavish adherence to dogma in this matter.

  • Comment number 7.

    As a Rehabilitation Officer for the visually impaired I frequently meet people who are prevented from having access to the information they require to go about their daily lives. The right to accessible information is clearly defined in the Disability Discrimination Act, and I commend Peter Horrocks for his proactive stance in enabling others.


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