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Ferbuary 28 2020
NHRCK Chairperson’s Statement on Protection of Hearing-impaired People’s Right to Access Information and Right to Language in News Coverage of Emergency Situations
-Many Broadcasting Networks Exclude Sign Language Interpreters in Coronavirus Briefing Broadcasts-
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (Chairperson Young-ae Choi) releases a statement urging MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation), SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System), YTN (Youth TV Network) and other cable TV networks to include sign language interpreters in their broadcasts of official government press briefings on COVID-19 to affirm its recognition of the Korean Sign Language as the official language of the Republic of Korea and guarantee the right of hearing-impaired people to access information on disaster situations.
There is a growing sense of urgency with the rapid spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has generated alarm and anxiety for us all, regardless of gender, disability and more. People with hearing impairments are no exception.
However, all broadcasting companies except KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) and Yonhap News TV aired a close-up shot of the speaker of the government coronavirus press briefing held by the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters (CDSCH), excluding the sign language speaker standing right next to the speaker. As a leading broadcasting network covering the COVID-19 pandemic, KBS provides sign language interpretation for the entire news programme as well as the press briefing. Yonhap News TV has not hired its own sign language interpreter, but makes sure to include sign language interpretation in its coverage.
Amid a nationwide spread of COVID-19, information provided at the coronavirus press briefings, held by the CDSCH and other government agencies several times a day, is directly related to the life and safety of individuals and should thus be made available to everyone who is directly or indirectly affected by the public health emergency. The right to access information is the basic right that should be enjoyed without discrimination on any ground such as gender and disability. In particular, information shared in an emergency situation is directly linked to the life and safety of individuals, which makes it more important to apply the principles of non-discrimination and human rights .
For this reason, the State has an obligation to provide additional assistance for minorities and marginalized people who cannot easily secure information in their day-to-day lives to guarantee their equal access to disaster-related information. This is the reason why the government provides sign language interpretations at least for its press briefings.
However, the government’s efforts to provide sign language interpretation were to no avail as broadcasting companies have continued to exclude sign language interpreters in their broadcasts of press briefings. Subtitles of spoken words, displayed to the viewers, can hardly be an effective alternative to the sign language interpretation as Hangeul (Korean alphabets) is no more than a foreign language to hearing-impaired individuals.
Moreover, Article 1 of the Korean Sign Language Act, which was enacted on February 6 2016 and came into effect on August 4 2016, states that “the Korean Sign Language is an inherent language of hearing-impaired people that has the same status as the Korean national language.” The Korean Sign Language is a unique language of the Republic of Korea that shares thousands of years of history with the Korean language and one of the two official languages of Korea.
Accordingly, the NHRCK calls on major TV networks to change their filming and editing practices to include sign language interpreters hired by the government in the broadcasts of coronavirus press briefings.
We would like to emphasize once again the importance of the Korean Sign Language as one of the official languages of Korea. Sign language translation is not just a matter of providing an accommodation for those with hearing impairments, but is the State’s legal duty for those who use it as a native language instead of Korean.