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Some Cry Foul Over 'Springer' Show Captioning Grant

March 04, 1998|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Your tax dollars at work: "Stripper Wars," wife swapping, fistfights and other staples of the popular "Jerry Springer" talk show are being captioned for hearing-impaired viewers under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The funding is part of a $7-million-a-year program to fund captioning on TV programs that are deemed to provide enriched educational and cultural experiences for hearing-impaired viewers.

The position of the Department of Education is that the hearing-impaired have as much right as everybody else in this country to view junk on television.

"Persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing want to watch the same programs that their hearing peers watch," Julie Green, press secretary to Education Secretary Richard Riley, said in an interview Tuesday.

"It's not our role to censor the programs available to the general public by denying captioning to the hearing-impaired," Green said.

But two U.S. Senators question the funding of Springer's talk show. In a letter sent to Riley on Tuesday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) called the syndicated series "the closest thing to pornography on broadcast television."

"Short of the window it provides on the depths to which our culture has sunk, we challenge anyone to demonstrate how it may legitimately educate the general public," they said.

Lieberman and Coats called on Riley to revoke the grant that covers the Springer show and asked the Department of Education to review its guidelines for funding.

Spokesmen at Universal Television, which distributes the "Springer" show, could not be reached for comment.

But Green said the government agency does not always know which shows will be close-captioned by the companies that receive its grants. The funds are awarded by the department in consultation with members of the hearing-impaired community, she said.

Other programs that are captioned under the Department of Education grants range from nightly network newscasts to "Baywatch" to programming on CNN and the ABC soap opera "All My Children."

The captions are subtitles that appear on the screen when activated by a special decoding device, enabling deaf viewers to read what the actors, announcers or newscasters are saying--or, in Springer's case, yelling.

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