Should Businesses have Moral Obligations to their Customers?

Posted: June 26, 2010 in Business, Deafness, Opinion

Dear Morgan,

I’ve recently become involved in lobbying for more captioning on New Zealand Television.  At present, we get captions on TV channels, 1,2, and a few programmes on channel 3.  This is funded by New Zealand on Air and TVNZ are committed to carry on with this service, despite the Teletext service being dropped, as long as NZ on Air carry on funding it.  The Teletext service will be pared back to what it was originally set up for, for the Deaf.

This is great, but I, as a deaf person, would like to have more choice of programmes.  I’d like to be able to choose to watch Prime, or even subscribe to Sky Television, but no captions are available on any other channels than the ones above.

In New Zealand, we have approximately 430,000 Deaf or Hearing Impaired people.  Approximately 10% of the population.  Of those, probably half of those people have hearing loss that depend on the captioning service for their relaxation, and their access to current affairs.

In America, they have a law called the American Disabilities Act, which makes it compulsory for all television to be captioned.  In the UK, Australia and Ireland, they also have a law that makes it compulsory to caption all prime-time viewing.  In New Zealand, we have no such law.

We have gone to the Human Rights Commission to see if we had a case, but unfortunately they do not cover language, and captioning is a form of language.

It seems ludicrous that Sky TV/Prime is fully captioned in Australia, yet they do not make those captions available here for us in New Zealand.  The reason?  Because they don’t have to as they are not required by law outside Australia.

Personally I think Sky Television have their head in the sand about this.  If cost is the factor, they only have to look at their possible new customer base of Deaf People subscribing to Sky for the captions.  Even if only quarter of the deaf population subscribed, that’s 100,000 x $50 a month.   Not bad money.  Heck, if I had a potential to gain that many new customers, I’d go out of my way to give those customers access to what I had to offer.

But right now, Sky Television effectively cuts off Deaf and Hearing Impaired people’s access to their services.

Which brings me to an interesting question.  Should businesses have moral obligations to their customer base, in this case the Deaf and hearing impaired population of New Zealand.  Or should they only have to operate to the letter of the law, and no more?

I’ve used the Deaf or deaf as an example here, but I believe the question should be asked for every business in New Zealand.  In my opinion it’s going the extra mile.  Inclusion.

I’d be very interested to see all opinions voiced.



  1. Me says:

    Your information about captioning in the US is not correct. It is NOT the ADA that mandates captioning. It is the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This came after Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 which mandated that all TVs that were 13 inches or larger have a caption decoding chip built in.
    If you’re going to use American law as your example, be sure you know what you’re talking about. It’s quite easy to find the info by googling.

    • I stand corrected about the ADA vs Telecommunications Act. My information was with what I have been told from people helping me in the lobbying, so I will correct them as well.

      Regardless, New Zealand doesn’t have an equivalent, and that is my whole point, either with the ADA, or the Telecommunications Act, and so therefore should businesses be obliged to help regardless?

      Considering Sky Television made a profit of 88million after tax last year?

      I will now have a look at our own Telecommunications Act and see if it’s something we can change in here.


  2. Kim says:

    Actually you are both right.

    Check out this link.


    Legislative development in the U.S.

    On January 23, 1990, the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 was passed by US Congress.[17] This Act gave the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) power to enact rules on the implementation of Closed Captioning. This Act required all analog television receivers with screens of at least 13 inches or greater, either sold or manufactured, to have the ability to display closed captioning in July 1, 1993.[19]

    Also in 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed to ensure equal opportunity for persons with disabilities.[4] The ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in public accommodations or commercial facilities. Title III of the ADA requires that public facilities, such as hospitals, bars, shopping centers and museums (but not movie theaters), provide access to verbal information on televisions, films or slide shows.

    The Telecommunications Act of 1996 expanded on the Decoder Circuity Act to place the same requirements on digital television receivers by July 1, 2002.[20] All TV programming distributors in the U.S. must provide closed caption for Spanish language video programming by January 1, 2010.[21]

  3. Kim says:

    The Logical Question to ask: What is/are Moral Obligations?

    Does the concept of moral obligations conform to what the majority say whereas leaves the minority in the dust?

    i.e. If a business has a moral obligation to provide quality sound for visual entertainment, does this mean the majority group that benefits from this will get offended if the minority group requires something such as open captions? (note: the cinema representatives said that open captions would offend hearing people in Cinemas during the NZ Human Rights Commission case)

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