Austin ABC affiliate TV station KVUE says it has cut ties with the closed-captioning company it was using after one of the bombing victims there was referred to on air Tuesday night using a racial slur.
The move was made Thursday, according to a statement from the station.
As the reporter made reference to 17-year-old Draylen Mason, who died on March 12 when a package exploded outside his house, “this monkey” appeared on the TV screens of viewers using closed captioning. It was followed by two dashes and an apparent correction, next showing “this young man,” which accurately reflects the reporter’s words.
KVUE said in its statement that the station waited until Thursday to cut ties with VITAC, the closed captioning company the station says is responsible for the mistake, in an effort to follow Federal Communications Commission guidelines during the change.
“Many of our viewers have asked us why this wasn’t an immediate decision, and we want you to know that we’ve been working as fast as possible to secure a replacement to this service while adhering to FCC guidelines,” the statement read.
KVUE apologized, saying the station was “heartsick about this terrible error,” but also used its statement to note that the error was not made by a KVUE employee. VITAC, based in Colorado, is the largest closed-captioning firm in the country, providing “more than 525,000 hours of real-time broadcast captioning in a year,” according to its own statement.
“Our protocol, when we mis-caption, is to make an immediate correction, in real time, using symbols to indicate a mis-caption and immediately insert the correct caption in real time, which is exactly what was done [Tuesday] night,” the statement read.
VITAC’s statement lays the responsibility for the error at the feet of its “broad range of complex foundational technologies” and “algorithms” but also notes that human employees are in charge of eliminating captioning errors where possible.
Sandra Smith, who says she’s employed by another company as a captioner, said in a series of comments on YouTube, “THAT is what captioning on TV will be eventually if the stations get what they want and do away with a live, TRAINED captioner doing their job.”