20 Sep 2020

TVNZ to provide live sign language for major political debates

12:15 pm on 20 September 2020

There will be live New Zealand Sign Language interpretation of all major political debates in the leadup to the 2020 General Election.

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TVNZ was criticised at the last election because no signing was used during the initial leaders' debates. Photo: 123RF

It follows a three-year collaboration between Television New Zealand and Deaf Aotearoa after some criticism in 2017.

Three key debates will be fully interpreted in NZSL, starting with the first leaders' debate on Tuesday. It will screen on TVNZ1 from 7.30pm and will be moderated by Breakfast presenter John Campbell.

Deaf Aotearoa's specialised NZSL interpreting service, iSign, will provide six on-screen interpreters during the first debate between Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National's Judith Collins.

The debate is being filmed at the TVNZ studios in Auckland and the NZSL team will be based across the corridor in a separate studio to the political rivals.

Interpreters will wear badges to identify which political leader they're translating for and will feature as the main image on screen for viewers tuning in on Kordia Channel 200 with online versions of the NZSL broadcast also available on TVNZ OnDemand and Deaf Aotearoa's official website.

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Viewers who are hard of hearing will still be able to follow the debate between Jacinda Ardern, left, and Judith Collins. Photo: Getty Images / RNZ

TVNZ director of corporate affairs Brent McAnulty said casting a vote at a general election is one of the most important decisions people make.

"TVNZ is committed to increasing the accessibility of its general election coverage for all New Zealanders and we hope that signed debates will give others in our audience greater opportunity to participate in the 2020 election which can only be a good thing for our democracy."

TVNZ sought to build on previous election coverage where captioning was the only form of translation in the live broadcasts.

"We know that there is a minority of deaf people for whom captioning is not a solution. Each election cycle we look at what more we can do and what expertise we have at TVNZ to take our coverage that step further so we're really proud of what we've put place and we're looking forward to hearing community feedback over the coming weeks."

In 2017, TVNZ was criticised for its lack of sign language interpreters during initial leaders' debates with more than 1000 people signing a petition by an advocacy group seeking fully accessible election coverage.

"This project has been a long time in the making," McAnulty said. "Deaf Aotearoa and TVNZ have worked collaboratively to put some smart solutions in place that serve viewers and we're excited to be filming and producing this programme in our Auckland studios so we can use our production expertise to ensure we can deliver the signed debate simultaneously."

RNZ understands the three NZSL translated debates will cost $25,000 to $30,000 and will largely be funded by Deaf Aotearoa.

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