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Lost In Translation on CTV PDF Print E-mail
Feb 01, 2006 at 12:00 AM

As I learned several Saturdays ago, tuned in to the 11pm CTV News with my husband, watching the English language news in Canada with an Arabic-speaker can be an instructive experience. Hamas had just won the Palestinian elections; much of the international news coverage of the previous days had focused on what this would mean for the politics of and prospects for peace in the Middle East. As a Palestine solidarity activist here in Canada, I watched the CTV coverage intently, trying to make sense of this new political reality. At the end of a soundbite with a young Palestinian man, my husband let out a bitter laugh. The following correspondence with CTV News explains why.  

Date: Sun, 29 Jan 2006 00:00:22 -0800
From: ejl@telus.net
To: programming@ctv.ca , news@ctv.ca
Subject: URGENT - error in Translation: Janis Mackey Frayer on the unrest

January 28, 2006

Dear CTV News,

On the 11pm CTV News on January 28, 2006 (also available on your website at http://www.ctv.ca/news - “CTV News: Janis Mackey Frayer on the unrest”), a news item on unrest following Palestinian elections contains a serious error in translation that throws your entire coverage into question.

While never properly identified (“Fatah militants,” “Fatah supporters,” “Fatah protesters,” “gunmen” and “Palestinian security forces [who are] Fatah allies” are all used interchangeably), Janis Mackey Frayer quotes a young Palestinian man as follows: “Hamas want to control us. This will never happen.” The young man actually says: “We congratulate Hamas for their win and congratulate all our people for this democracy.”

Please advise who it is that is responsible for translation for CTV News. Please also let me know what CTV News will do to correct this error for your viewing public and what you will do to ensure such an error does not happen again.

Erica Lamacraft
Vancouver, BC

Date: Sun, 29 Jan 2006 23:54:17 -0800
From: ejl@telus.net
To: programming@ctv.ca , news@ctv.ca
Subject: More Errors in Translation: Janis Mackey Frayer with the Hamas MP

January 29, 2006

Dear CTV News
Re: Janis Mackey Frayer with the Hamas MP

I watched the CTV National News at 11pm this evening, January 29, 2006, in hopes of seeing a correction to last night’s mistranslation. (I note you have removed the story from the website, although there is no indication as to why this was done.) While there were two stories on aspects of Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections, no correction of yesterday’s error in translation was issued.

More disturbing, these errors in translation continue. In “Janis Mackey Frayer with the Hamas MP” (again available on your website at http://www.ctv.ca/world), Frayer asks the newly elected Farahat: if Hamas asked you to sacrifice another son, would you do it?

Farahat responds: “The jihad project will continue as long as there is occupation.”

Frayer translates this as, “‘Of course. Whatever Hamas orders I’m willing to do,’ she replies without hesitation.”

Again, who is responsible for translation at CTV News? What will CTV News do to inform its viewers of these errors? Removing the clips from the website is insufficient.

Erica Lamacraft
Vancouver, BC

Date: Tue, 31 Jan 2006 13:02:10 -0500
From: Mark Sikstrom <msikstrom@ctv.ca>
To: “‘ejl@telus.net‘“ <ejl@telus.net>
Subject: translation


That clip and translation came to us from Associated Press Television. You can reach them at www.ap.org

Date: Tue, 31 Jan 2006 11:22:10 -0800
From: ejl@telus.net
To: Mark Sikstrom <msikstrom@ctv.ca>
Cc: programming@ctv.ca , news@ctv.ca
Subject: Re: translation

Mr. Sikstrom -

This is an entirely unacceptable response. CTV News has a responsibility to correct misinformation that it has shared with thousands of Canadian viewers. Associated Press did not air the clips - CTV News did. I also fail to see how it is my responsibility to contact AP Television - CTV News should be doing so, immediately and loudly. Note as well that there are two clips, on consecutive evenings, which contain serious errors in translation. (So serious, I would argue, that the meanings become their opposites.) I have sent emails regarding both. Are both from AP Television? Do Ms. Mackey Frayer and CTV News take no responsibility for these errors?

Again, please advise what CTV News will do to correct these errors for the viewing public. Please also provide contact information for the CTV ombudsperson.

Erica Lamacraft

Date: Tue, 31 Jan 2006 15:20:52 -0500
From: Mark Sikstrom <msikstrom@ctv.ca>
To: “‘ejl@telus.net‘“ <ejl@telus.net>
Subject: RE: translation

Here is the complete transcript of the clip provided. The portion of the clip that was audible was the first part, rather than the last part of the quote.

Gaza City - 28 January 2006
19. SOUNDBITE (Arabic): Masked Palestinian policeman:
“We congratulate the Hamas movement on its success, we congratulate the Palestinian people for this democracy. But they (Hamas) called us - we the policemen and members of the security departments - ‘collaborators’, and ‘semi-Israeli soldiers’ two days ago, and today they want to control us. This will never happen.”

The sentiment and meaning of the quote attributed to the Palestinian policeman was accurate.

Television reports by their abbreviated nature, do not usually contain long narrative clips, especially when they are in a foreign language that is subsequently translated. Generally, only an excerpt is included to properly identify the speaker.

We apologize for the confusion.

Mark Sikstrom
Executive Producer
CTV News Syndication and CTV.ca

Date: Wed, 1 Feb 2006 21:35:03 -0800
From: ejl@telus.net
To: Mark Sikstrom <msikstrom@ctv.ca>
Cc: programming@ctv.ca , news@ctv.ca
Subject: RE: translation

February 1, 2006

Mr. Sikstrom –

Thank you for providing the transcript of the soundbite from the January 28 news item. Let me start with the basics: the young man in question was not masked, nor was he identified as a Palestinian policeman in the CTV News report.

I disagree that the sentiment and meaning of the quote was accurate. First, the segment CTV News aired had the young man saying, in Arabic: “We congratulate Hamas for their win and congratulate all our people for this democracy.” This was presented in English as: “Hamas want to control us. This will never happen.” Clearly, the meaning of each is different. What is CTV News’ viewership on its Saturday evening newscast? What is the size of its web audience? I wonder how many understand Arabic. Do these viewers matter? They may not have written emails or letters, but I’m sure they question the credibility and reliability of CTV News.

Second, it seems to me that the English translation promotes a sense of conflict, where the entire quote defuses that sense of conflict. Given that Ms. Mackey Frayer apparently does not speak the predominant language of the people in the area in which she reports, her selectivity in presenting this excerpt is guided by her arbitrary framing; she is not reporting/summarizing the ideas of the person being interviewed. This should be clarified for CTV News viewers.

It remains that CTV News has yet to address my email concerning Ms. Mackey Frayer’s January 29 report on newly elected MP Farahat. Here, too, the on-air quote in Arabic is quite different from its English account. Does the “full” soundbite include both? If that is the case, as with the January 28 excerpt, I would again argue that such selectivity is not an accurate reflection of the sentiment and meaning of Ms. Farahat‘s interview. It’s impossible for me to know, though, as I have not seen the transcript. All I know is that the words spoken in Arabic are different from the English translation.

CTV News has a responsibility to its viewers. Apologizing to me “for the confusion” does not correct the specific errors nor fix the larger problem. What will CTV News do to correct these errors for its viewing public and to prevent such mistakes in the future? If you are unable to answer these questions, please direct me to someone who can.

Erica Lamacraft

I am left with unanswered questions and the impression that CTV News feels no sense of obligation to the viewing public, the people about whom they report, or indeed, the truth. What does freedom of the press mean, anyway?

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