An investigation by The UpTake has found that, despite nudging from advocates for Minnesota’s deaf population, Republican candidate for Governor Tom Emmer and Independence Party candidate for Governor Tom Horner are not captioning any of their web video advertisements. Minnesota’s campaign finance law requires that candidates who take money from the state to fund their campaigns must caption their TV and web videos. Both Emmer and Horner signed agreements saying they would do so when they took the state money. Democratic Farmer Labor Party candidate Mark Dayton isn’t taking a public subsidy and is not legally required to caption his web videos, but his campaign has captioned about half of them. All three candidates appear to be captioning their TV videos.
As you’ll see in our video, web video captioning is very important to the deaf and hard of hearing community. Elise Knopf explains that Minnesota’s campaign ad captioning law was written to include web ads because so many young people don’t watch TV and many people now get most of their information from the internet.
What’s amazing is that candidates are not captioning their web video ads when they can do it for free and reach the estimated 5% to 10% of Minnesota’s voters who are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing. A significant number of those voters are seniors, a group that can usually be counted on to show up and vote.
TV ad: “I’m Tom Emmer…”
Now you’re probably already tired of hearing ads for November’s election.
TV ad: “I’m Tom Horner…”
But there are some people who haven’t heard any of them yet.
TV ad: “Mark Dayton learned his values…”
Seriously. They haven’t heard them and it’s not because they don’t want to.
“Hello, my name is Elise Knopf”
Elise Knopf is one of thousands of Minnesotans who are deaf or hard of hearing. With people like Elise in mind, the 2008 Minnesota Legislature passed a law requiring candidates who take public subsidies to close caption their TV ads.
TV ad: “Mark Dayton learned that lesson well. As State Auditor…”
When we checked, it appeared all of the candidates running for Governor were doing that.
But the law also requires that those ads, if they are two minutes or less, be captioned on the web.
We looked at all of the web videos that Mark Dayton, Tom Horner, and Tom Emmer produced on their websites.
TV Ad: “The Republican candidate for Governor only looks too far to the right…”
We found that both Tom Horner and Tom Emmer, who take public money and are required by law to caption their videos, are not doing so.
TV ad: “Mark Dayton will close the tax loopholes for the rich…”
Mark Dayton, who is not taking public financing, has captioned more than half of his videos, but his most recent ones are not captioned.
If you can see the campaign ads on TV, with captioning, why is it important to have them captioned on the web too?
“Well, for…there’s many reasons actually. Consumer choice for one. Some people don’t watch TV. Some of the younger generation, they’re online all the time. Deaf blind people use different programs that they prefer to go online to access, to have access. It’s consumer choice, but I think the important thing is it doesn’t matter where the ad is being advertised, if it’s TV or internet or radio, the issue is access. If hearing people can access those three media, why deaf and hard of hearing people cannot access them?”
To get thousands of dollars in public subsidies, candidates must file a form here at the Campaign Finance Board. Now that form, which I have here, is a very simple two page document. On it it says that they agree that they are going to caption their videos on TV and on the web. And that they’re going to do transcriptions of their radio ads on their website as well.
Both Tom Emmer and Tom Horner signed those forms.
It’s possible to opt out from the captioning law before the ads start running. None of the Gubernatorial candidates has opted out this year. In 2008 several Minnesota House campaigns were able to opt out from the law because they did not have a website or it was difficult to close caption the TV video.
Close captioning video, however, is easy and free. At The UpTake we’ve been closed captioning the Gubernatorial debates, with a lot of help from our volunteers by using a free tool that’s available on You Tube.
Just put your text in a document, upload it, wait for You Tube to process it, and voila, the captions automatically appear in the right place.
Debate audio: “but because you already spent the money!”
There’s a link at The UpTake with detailed instructions on how to do this.
So if it’s so easy to do, then why isn’t it happening?
Mary Hartnett- Executive Director, Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans (MCDHH) “I can’t really answer that. Only the candidates would be able to answer those questions. I know that our office has contacted or done outreach to all of the offices and offered assistance. We’ve also let them know about ‘video captioning essentials’ – our online course. And we know that they’ve also received handouts, flyers, when they register with the Campaign Finance Board they’re informed of this obligation that they have.”
It certainly isn’t a partisan issue. When the law was passed in 2008, only three people in the house of representatives voted against it : Representatives Sarah Anderson, Mark Olson and Tom Emmer.
One other possible reason is that there’s no teeth in the law. The Campaign Finance Board has told me that there is no fine, no penalty per se, for not following this particular law. Now on top of that, for them to take action, usually somebody has to file a complaint. And, on top of all of that, there’s a lot of special interest money now that’s being spent on campaign ads because of the recent Supreme Court decision — “Citizens United” And that means those ads since they’re NOT coming from the candidates, don’t have to follow this law at all.
But law or no law, there is one very good reason why all of these campaign ads should be captioned on TV and the web.
Elise Knopf: “Well, the main reason is for access. 10 percent of the population are deaf or hard of hearing. And they have no access to information that is heard on the ads.
I just want to add that I think it’s so important for candidates to make a good faith effort to reach all people in the country. And really, it’s something that’s not expensive. It’s something that’s not hard to do. It’s not rocket science. I think it’s important to show that you care about what people in this country think and believe and understand. If it was you who became hard of hearing, lost your hearing, wouldn’t you want that access too?”
Video showing captions missing from Tom Horner and Tom Emmer web video advertisements.
Video Interview with Executive Director of Minnesota Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing
Video Interview with former chair of Minnesota Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing