by Kathy Kiely
SEPT. 24, 2014
In the Philadelphia area, most candidates and campaign committees trying to woo voters with TV ads this election season are going out of their way to reach out to those with hearing difficulties, but there are some notable exceptions.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign for re-election is most prominent of the political committees advertising on Philadelphia-area TV this fall without closed captioning, written transcripts of a broadcasts’ spoken words that can be activated on most TVs.
The omission isn’t partisan however: The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which has bought ads opposing Corbett, also fails to provide the captions. So does the campaign of Tom MacArthur, a Republican running for an open congressional seat in south Jersey.
The findings were unearthed as part of the Philly Political Media Watch, a pilot research project by the Internet Archive, the Sunlight Foundation, the Committee of Seventy and local scholars to catalogue political communications and trace funding for them to the source.
Our initial efforts focus on advertising in one of the nation’s largest TV markets during the 2014 campaign. The Internet Archive, which is capturing Philadelphia TV broadcasts on servers housed at the University of Pennsylvania’s Linguistics Data Consortium, noticed the omitted captions because the Archive uses them to index the TV data.
While the Federal Communications Commission requires closed captioning on most television programming, advertisements are generally exempt. Most advertisers provide the captions, however, to expand their market reach. In a December 2010 memo to members, the Association of National Advertisers extolled the benefits of closed captioning, noting that the “cost . . . is minimal” and that it would enable advertisers to reach an estimated 36 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss (low, according to Johns Hopkins University, which puts the number at 48 million).