Readers Blog: Broadcast of sign language national anthem on TV

An Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpreting team performed the national anthem at the All-Ireland Hurling Final at Croke Park on August 19.

It was an historic event, as it was the first public performance of the newly translated ISL version of Amhrán na bhFiann. Consequently, it had received significant media attention beforehand online and on radio.

RTÉ television cameras, however, only broadcast a few seconds of the minute-long performance.

Much to the disappointment and frustration of the deaf community, the cameras focused instead on the crowd, the backroom team, and the musicians, etc, blocking viewers from seeing the words of the national anthem in sign language.

Members of the deaf community have launched an online petition asking RTÉ to broadcast the full ISL performance at the All-Ireland Football Final on September 2. So far, more than 4,000 people have signed the petition.

The belief amongst the deaf community, who use ISL as their first language, is that RTÉ would prefer that sign language only be visible during designated ISL television slots.

Another incident occurred during the Pope’s meeting with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle. A sign language interpreter attended the event and signed both speeches.

The interpreter was positioned so that he was visible on screen at times, but was too far away from the television cameras to be seen clearly by deaf viewers at home.

Pope Francis talked about a more equal society, but deaf ISL users were excluded from this event.

The interpreter was deliberately positioned off the stage. In fact, he was as far away from it as possible, and virtually ignored by the RTÉ cameras. ISL was recognised in law last Christmas Eve with the signing of the Irish Sign Language Act, 2017.

The Act places a duty on broadcasters to follow the principles of equality, dignity and respect when promoting and broadcasting programmes produced as part of their BAI targets for signed programming.

Deaf people pay the full television licence fee. But the percentage of programming transmitted with onscreen ISL interpretation is only approx 3%.

There is no special provision for the televising of occasions of national importance.

In July, the report produced by the Seanad Public Consultation Committee set up to review the status of the national anthem, stated that the national anthem ‘is an important national symbol of Ireland and should be treated with respect and dignity.’

The deaf community regards these performances, seen live by more than 80,000 people in the stadium and by a worldwide television audience of nearly one million,as an opportunity for Irish society to learn about and celebrate their language and culture.

-Micheál Kelliher

#StopHidingISL campaign

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