Princess Leia or Present Cesc lay ya? Ofcom criticises “unwatchable” subtitles

Deaf viewers are left baffled by subtitling mistakes such as "ayatollahs" instead of "toddlers", and "lepl on" instead of "lemon"

Subtitling mistakes have made programmes “unwatchable” for deaf viewers after errors that included transforming “toddlers” into “ayatollahs”, Ofcom has found.

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The broadcasting watchdog’s report on subtitling services found “serious recognition errors” including the Star Wars character Princess Leia being called “Present Cesc lay ya” and lemon transcribed as “lepl on”.

Those who are deaf or hard of hearing are being left confused by mistakes and therefore have an “inferior” experience to other viewers, the report said.

Other examples of serious subtitling mistakes that made for tough viewing included “they need a man” instead of “they need a mum” and “be given to ayatollahs” instead of be given to “our toddlers”.

Ofcom’s report said: “Live subtitling entails unavoidable delays which mean that speech and subtitling cannot be completely synchronised. Errors and omissions are also not uncommon.”

This is not the first time there has been concern over subtitling standards. In 2013, Labour MP David Blunkett told the Radio Times that he believed broadcasters were failing deaf and blind people by using garbled subtitles and not dubbing enough programmes, citing the examples “the Arsenal player has been fouled by a zebra” (instead of referring to footballer Patrice Evra).

The latest findings show better transcribing is still needed. “It is clear from viewers’ feedback that, while subtitle users value the opportunity to watch live TV, they sometimes find live subtitling frustrating, and, on occasion, unwatchable.”

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The report also said 155 BBC shows needed live subtitles, with 53 on ITV, including popular programmes such as The Jeremy Kyle Show, The Graham Norton Show and Top Gear.