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Broadcasters accused of clumsy subtitles – should we be dubbing all films and television programmes?

Posted by Annemieke, August 27 2013

David Blunkett, Labour’s former home secretary, who was born blind, has accused broadcasters of providing a poor service to people with hearing and sight problems. He believes they are failing to deal with the issue of an ageing population suffering from blindness and deafness. He also said that the blind were left frustrated when foreign dramas and documentaries were not dubbed.

A spokesman for Ofcom said: "Viewers have made clear to us that they have concerns about the quality of subtitling. So we recently announced proposals to improve this, working with deaf and hearing impaired viewers and groups, as well as broadcasters. We expect to finalise our plans in the next few months."
In many countries, Italy and Germany in particular, the dubbing of foreign-language films is routine and comprehensive. In other countries, such as the Netherlands, most foreign films and programmes are subtitled.

Subtitling and dubbing each have their upsides and downsides. Dubbing tends to be more costly and some of the cultural nuances of the foreign film are lost, whilst subtitles often need to summarize the soundtrack rather than provide a full translation. Dubbing, when done well, can be less obtrusive whilst subtitles may help language learning.

In an ideal world, each viewer could choose to view any film or programmed either with subtitles or dubbed, but this is not (yet) realistic. At the moment, the main deciding factor appears to be a cultural one. Dubbing is regarded as annoying in the Netherlands, while the English tend to find subtitles distracting. But with an ageing population, people with hearing and sight impairments are becoming part of the mainstream, and the need for access to films and television programmes will only increase.

If you are planning a film, documentary of television programme and would like to find out more about subtitling, please get in touch. We would love to discuss your plans with you. Please call +31 (0)23 - 2024 723 or email

  Posted by Annemieke, August 27 2013
  Film and Television, Subtitling