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Ombudsman meets with directors of RTV, STA and UKOM on the accessibility of information for vulnerable groups

The Ombudsman Peter Svetina met this week with the Director General of Radiotelevision Slovenia (RTV) Igor Kadunc, Director of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) Bojan Veselinovič and Director of the Government Communication Office of the Republic of Slovenia (UKOM) Uroš Urbanija. During the meetings they discussed the importance of accessibility to information in a form suitable for vulnerable groups of people. The institution of the Human Rights Ombudsman is often confronted with initiatives proposed by individuals who write that, because of their age or other disabilities – whether they are blind, visually impaired, deaf, hearing-impaired, etc. – they face a variety of issues in accessing information in their everyday lives. Peter Svetina thinks that, in this coronavirus crisis, certain positive steps have been taken in this area, such as real-time interpreting into Slovenian sign language during government press conferences; however, the Ombudsman expects systemic solutions from the government in this respect. He believes that the role and active participation of all three institutions with which he met are of paramount importance.

The Ombudsman stressed that access to information is a fundamental human right. "People with disabilities must be able to enjoy their human rights to the fullest. Access to information and communication technologies is particularly important, as this provides a basis for exercising other rights as well. Through adaptations, people living with impairments can obtain a wide range of information, they can communicate, attend education, integrate into society and participate actively in it. Without adjustments, however, they live on the margins of society and do not have the same opportunities as everyone else,” points out Svetina. He is pleased to see that, since 2018, the Broadcast Access Service has been operating within RTV Slovenia, which administers the portal – a radio and television hub using special access technologies – with audio descriptions or subtitles and programmes with an interpreter for Slovenian Sign Language. He said that the role of public service in this area was invaluable; however, his wish is to pay even more attention to distress among hearing-impaired people, which has even increased during the coronavirus pandemic, largely as a result of wearing masks in private and public life. Many of them only read lips and do not know sign language, which makes it difficult for them to communicate and obtain quick access to information.  Most of them acquire information with a temporal delay and in truncated form, which puts these people in a disadvantaged position. This is one of the reasons why the Ombudsman appealed to the managements of RTV, STA and UKOM to ensure the subtitling of their media content, as much as possible and with a minimum of time delay, preferably in real time (for example, press conferences, addresses to citizens, etc.), and to pursue the same principle of publication as available to all other people. "For example, if TV Slovenia broadcasts a certain press conference on its programs, it is to be expected that the same publication with subtitles will be provided as soon as possible," emphasizes Peter Svetina. He added that many of us are unskilled in modern communication technologies, which is why direct publication on RTV Slovenia programmes and not only online is extremely important.

The meeting participants drew the Ombudsman's attention to problems in the development of language technologies, the lack of systemic solutions and the paucity of financial resources for this area. They agreed that the government’s role was of key importance in this respect and that the issue does not only concern the media, but should be addressed more broadly. Therefore, Ombudsman Peter Svetina called for a joint search for long-term solutions, in which all stakeholders should be involved. The Ombudsman will call on the Government of the Republic of Slovenia to create a special strategy and to ensure, in another appropriate way, universally equal access to information. According to the Ombudsman, each of us deserves to be a respected, equal and valued part of society.

Peter Svetina also highlighted the importance of an independent public service. "Access to a news service providing credible public information is a human right and the basis of democracy, therefore, the role and work of RTV and STA are of vital importance," pointed out the Ombudsman.