Entertainment & Arts

ESPN UK fined £120,000 by Ofcom over audio description

A TV camera at Manchester United match in 2011 Image copyright All Sport/Getty Images
Image caption ESPN's UK channel had rights to some English Premier League matches from 2009-2013

Sports TV channel ESPN has been fined £120,000 by media regulator Ofcom for failing to provide enough audio description on its programmes.

ESPN provided the service for visually impaired viewers on 2.3% of programmes in 2012 - short of its 5% target.

The channel had also missed its target in 2011. Ofcom said the breach of its rules was "both serious and repeated".

ESPN complained live sport was "not generally suitable for audio description on television".

Audio description provides a commentary on what is happening on screen, describing things like body language, expressions and movements.

ESPN broadcasts a range of sports from around the world and had the rights to some English Premier League and FA Cup football matches between 2009 and 2013.

'Excluded'

The Ofcom ruling said as a result of ESPN's shortfall, "people with visual impairments have been excluded from access to its programmes".

The watchdog said the channel had argued "television sports commentary does give visually impaired people some level of description by its nature".

But Ofcom went on: "Television commentary of live sport presumes the viewer can see the action. It is unlike radio commentary in this respect, and is not provided with the needs of the visually impaired in mind."

ESPN's UK channel was launched by its US parent company in 2009 but the British channel was bought by BT in July 2013.

Sport 'unsuitable'

An ESPN statement said: "It is acknowledged that live sport is not generally suitable for audio description on television and ESPN regrets it was not possible to reach an understanding with Ofcom in this regard."

A spokesman said ESPN and BT would "work together with Ofcom on the matter to ensure that the payment is made".

A statement from BT said: "This sanction relates to a period before BT acquired the ESPN UK TV channel.

"BT takes compliance of audio description very seriously and meets the quotas set by Ofcom. We constantly monitor our obligations to ensure this remains the case."

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