Mistranslation is a gift that keeps on giving.
The Iranian government has denied that its new president, Hassan Rouhani, condemned the Holocaust against the Jews by German Nazis. The Iranians are now threatening to sue CNN for “the distortion of the statements by the president of our country.”
State-run Iranian media claims that CNN was lying when they mistranslated a quote to make it sound as if Rouhani actually believes that the Holocaust took place. He does not.
“CNN officials seem to be escaping their responsibility of informing the public honestly,” Fars News wrote on their English site. “During the interview, CNN aired an English translation of President Rouhani’s remarks which was totally inaccurate and untrustworthy, and in some parts contained sentences which were not at all uttered by the president.”
The interpreter used the word “holocaust” in the translation even though Rouhani did not. Addition is one of the eleven cardinal sins of translation. How interesting that such a big error would occur around such a key, politically controversial term. Keep in mind that Rouhani was egged (and shoed) by protesters on his return home to Tehran.
CNN claims that the interpreter’s error belonged to the Iranians, since that was who the interpreter was working for. Iranian critics claim that CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who speaks Farsi, should have caught it. CNN denied the charge and has posted the entire interview online to answer critics.
Iran state-controlled Fars News now says CNN and Amanpour should “account for the fabrication” and for “untrustworthy and misleading coverage,” particularly “considering that Amanpour [was] raised in Iran and knows the Persian language very well,” suggesting that she should have listened to the actual interview instead of “blaming the Iran-chosen translator.”
Other critics blame CNN for relying on government interpreters instead of using their own linguists to get the story right, but this seems naïve to anyone familiar with production budgets. It is equally unreasonable to expect Amanpour to fact-check her mega-scoop on live TV. Interpreting is a full-time job, and so is doing a news interview. (I should disclose here that 1-800-Translate has been consulted regarding translation requirements for this program, but has not been engaged to work on this show.)
I also should disclose that I used to do media events like this for the Japanese government, where our briefing books for head-of-state visits were inches thick. So it’s really surprising to me that the interpreter provided would accidently drop in the “H” word, with admission of the Holocaust such anathema to a government of avowed Jew-haters. But what a great smokescreen it’s proven to be. Make a big splash in the English-language news cycle, which they certainly did, then make a big stink in their own translation so that it plays nice in the Persian press for the Jew-haters back home and is barely noticed among Anglophones. Maybe I am giving these Iranian politicians too much credit for cunning, but what a great way to have your cake and eat it too.
Here’s the interview in the raw…