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BBC criticised for cutting red button services

By | Published on Tuesday 28 January 2020


Campaigners have called on the BBC to halt plans to wind down its text-based red button services, arguing that they remain an important source of news and information to older less web-savvy viewers, especially those with limited sight and hearing.

The BBC announced last year that it would start to phase out its red button content services in 2020. Those services first launched in 1999 to replace the Beeb’s old fashioned teletext platform Ceefax. They allowed people to access news headlines, sport updates, weather and travel via their telly’s remote control.

Use of the red button has slumped as more and more viewers sit in front of their television with a smartphone in hand, able to access all the same content through the BBC’s portfolio of apps. That makes the not inconsiderable cost of also providing that content via the red button harder to justify, given the ongoing need for the broadcaster to save money. To that end, red button services are set to start winding down this week.

When announcing those plans last year, the BBC said: “From early 2020, viewers will no longer be able to access text-based BBC News and BBC Sport content by pressing red. It’s always a difficult decision to reduce services, and we don’t take decisions like this lightly, but we have taken it because we have to balance the resources needed to maintain and develop this service with the need to update our systems to give people even better internet-based services. Viewers can still access this information on the BBC website, BBC News and Sport mobile apps – as well as 24 hour news on the BBC News Channel”.

However, the National Federation Of The Blind has called for the red button services to be saved, arguing that it is “vital for visually impaired, deaf, disabled and older people, as well as many other people who want to find out information independently in an easy, convenient and accessible format, who are not online”. Removing the service, it says, “will leave many people, who are already vulnerable, further isolated and marginalised from society”.

The NFBUK also questions the procedures the BBC went through before deciding to cut the red button services. To that end, in a petition delivered to 10 Downing Street yesterday, it also calls for public scrutiny of the broadcaster’s decision making processes and – if it turns out assessments that the BBC should have carried out under its royal charter were skipped – that those assessments are now done.

For those of you who mainly remember the red button service as the place where you could jump around different stages during the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage, well, don’t worry, that particular element of the red button is not being cut. Even though you all surely now use the iPlayer for such things anyway.