BSLBT was set up in 2008 as an alternative way for independent broadcasters to meet their regulatory duty to provide programming in British Sign Language (BSL). For more information please read: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/signing/statement/plain/

BSLBT was initially established as a private company, with a Board of Directors drawn in equal numbers from the broadcasting world and from the Deaf community. In January 2012 it achieved charitable status, retaining the commitment to an equal mix of Deaf and hearing Trustees.

Its charitable objects are:
The promotion of social inclusion among the Deaf community who are socially excluded from society, or parts of society, as a result of being deaf by encouraging, supporting and developing the provision of broadcasting of sign-presented content (in any media) for the members of the Deaf community.

Independent broadcasters with between 0.5% and 1% of audience share can choose either to source and broadcast programmes presented in sign-language themselves or to contribute £20,000 each per year to BSLBT to make programmes in sign language for the Deaf audience. BSLBT’s income in 2011 was £1 million, and contributions from broadcasters are expected to remain broadly at this level for the foreseeable future. Having secured charitable status, opportunities now exist to seek additional funds to expand BSLBT’s work in line with its mission.

Track Record of Achievement

Within its first three years of operation, BSLBT established an impressive track record of commissioning high-quality programmes for broadcast to the Deaf community. Commissions have ranged across genres including drama, sports, children’s programmes and chat shows. The quality of the output has been recognised with a number of awards.

Programmes are broadcast in regular weekly timeslots, known as the BSL Zone,  on the Community Channel and Film Four and are available on Freeview, Sky and Virgin Media platforms. They can also be viewed at any time via BSLBT’s website at www.bslzone.co.uk

BSLBT is held accountable by Ofcom for the delivery of signed broadcast programming and this arrangement is reviewed periodically. At the last review in 2010 Ofcom gave unqualified support for the work BSLBT had achieved and for its continuation.

Governance and Staffing

BSLBT has an Executive Chair (Ruth Griffiths) and a Chief Executive (Terry Riley) who work in partnership to lead the organisation. Ruth has a professional background in broadcasting, notably building the BBC’s subtitling, sign language interpretation and audio description services. She leads the Board of BSLBT as well as taking primary responsibility for the operational and financial management of the Trust. Terry has a professional background as a senior television producer  (he was the first Deaf programme editor at the BBC) and leads on creative and commissioning issues.

Terry and Ruth are supported by Maggie Swinfen, the Trust Manager and Steven Wynne who is BSLBT’s Outreach Worker. BSLBT has a very lean staff structure, currently employing the equivalent of just 3.2 full time staff. The team all work from home, but meet regularly in London to plan and progress work.

BSLBT’s Board meets five times a year, and has established three committees: Finance & Audit, Remuneration and Nominations.

Strategy and Objectives

The Board of BSLBT has developed a three year Business Plan that commits the organisation to objectives in core areas:

  • Commissioning programmes
  • Distribution
  • Audience engagement
  • External relations and communications
  • Finance and Resources
  • Governance

Key challenges for BSLBT at this stage in its development are:

  • To develop and modernise its digital media presence
  • To sustain a track record of excellence in programming
  • To deepen its engagement with BSL viewers and understanding of their needs, to inform future programme commissioning
  • To explore opportunities for charitable fundraising from appropriate sources
  • To manage succession planning for its Chief Executive
  • To consolidate its infrastructure and business systems and to ensure the right resources are in place to underpin success in the next 5-10 years