This show is different from all other TV shows directed to deaf audiences. What makes this show unique is that the anchor, Henry Whalen, is deaf. He signs, while Michael Voronstsov’s voice is heard interpreting. When the show goes to a report, Michael appears in a box to the right of the screen while the story is in a box to the left.
Silent News is also closed captioned.
“For the first time, television news is totally accessible to the deaf,” says Henry through an interpreter. Michael adds, “this is a show that is deaf-focused and is completely accessible to all deaf people. The show meets the needs of everyone involved in the deaf community: those who depend on American Sign Language, hard of hearing people who read captioning, interpreters, and hearing people who are interested in singing”.
Because the literacy skills of the deaf are often low, Michael adds background information to the script when signing. He comments that “in terms of message, we’re adding unsaid words. For example, we added that Beijing is the capital of China”.
Each week several national and international stories are broadcast. Interspersed with these there are stories that focus on deaf issues – when they are available. As show producer St. Clair tells it, mainstream TV news does not produce stories on disability issues. “It’s very rare for our show to find a deaf story. There are hard news stories out there and I think people should be made more aware of what’s going on in these communities.”
Henry and Michael let the producers know what the deaf community wants to see on the show. And the producers listen. Henry believes that TV news should be more visual. “More action-oriented stories are what the deaf and hearing-impaired community wants.”
Michael and Henry are not your average TV news performers. They are both long-time activists in the field of deaf rights and believe that Silent News will have a positive impact on the deaf community. Henry believes, “Silent News will start spreading awareness that deaf people need and want to learn more”.
Henry has continued his activism on behalf of deaf right as the President of the Ontario Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Student Services at George Brown College in Toronto. “My life-long advocacy and continuous presentations on behalf of the deaf community were skills that contributed to my television presence. Silent News is an extension of all my advocacy skills that I use on behalf of deaf rights”.
Michael is the hearing son of deaf parents. Michael remembers frustrating situations when, as a boy, “I did not have the skills to advocate for my deaf parents. Silent News will spread awareness so the frustrations that my parents and all other deaf people experienced can lessen.”
For Michael, the show serves another, but similar, purpose: “Silent News is the first show that is deaf focused The show is already having an impact on the deaf community. Deaf kids seeing the show can say, “I can do that, I can be the deaf host. Deaf kids who were traditionally mainstreamed into certain career options, now have another choice. They have a role model which they can identify with and say, “I know now that I can do that.”
As Peter Reynolds, who is executive producer of the Disability Network, sees it, “People with disabilities can find independence through technology if there’s a will on the part of the networks. It has never been done before now. Silent News is part of my philosophy which advocates bringing “marginalized” groups into broadcasting and giving them a direct say over programming”.