Posted tagged ‘ABC TV (Australia)’

Mistranslation and Misinterpreting -10. Interpreters, Translators, and Politics in the Media Spotlight Again

7 October 2009

My earlier blogs Mistranslation 3 (13 June 2008), 4 (23 June 2008) and 5 (17 July 2008) were on the topic of the Interpreter (or Translator) as scapegoat or centre of media attention in national and international political affairs. A recent case may be added to this growing list.

The screening of the documentary Stolen at the Sydney Film Festival in June 2009 created a snowballing controversy which lasted two months and may still be reverberating as the documentary is shown in other countries. By the time the film was re-screened at the Melbourne Film Festival on 31 July 2009, the controversy had become so heated that the Australian ABC recorded a 20 minute Q and A session after the screening. (References will follow later in a group for further study.)

In the background of the discussion is a long-festering African post-colonial dispute which began in the mid-1970s when the Spanish Government ceded its Protectorate of Western Sahara (Sahara Occidental) to Morocco and Mauritania. (The case has some parallels with the East Timor saga (Timor Leste), which began at the same time but reached a settlement a decade ago. In fact, at one point, the President of East Timor, José Ramos Horta became involved. See reference below.)

The complex controversy arises from the conflicting points of view of the Moroccan Government and its supporters and the views of the (rebel) Frente Polisario Freedom Movement and their partisans. Also active in the debate were a number of Western Saharans (Saharawis) who have migrated to and settled in Australia and belong to the association, Australian Western Sahara Association, AWSA). Others also joined in the debate.

However, the major point of interest for those of us interested in translation and interpretation matters is the accusation that some of the recorded dialogue was incorrectly translated or transcribed from the local Hassaniya language into English, and also in part, the question of interpreter competence. This charge led to the accusation that some of the statements of one of the interviewees from a refugee camp were misrepresented by the film makers. The evidence offered is not easy to analyse but may be worth the attention of independent experts.

The basic details of this case may be studied by following these references:

1. Australian ABC TV, 7.30 Report, 15 June 2009

“Bitter dispute over Stolen documentary
Australian Broadcasting Corporation Broadcast: 15/06/2009 Reporter: Matt Peacock

A bitter dispute has erupted over the accuracy of a taxpayer-funded feature documentary screened at the Sydney Film Festival. The film, called ‘Stolen’, features the story of Fetim Sellami and her family, who live in a refugee camp in the Algerian Sahara Desert. Fetim Sellami has been flown to Sydney by the independence movement that runs the camp, to enable her to denounce her depiction in the documentary as a slave, and the allegation that such slavery is widespread in the camps.”

1 (a). The Question and Answer Session (after the July screening)
ABC Radio Movie Time, 31 July 2009

2. The detailed response by the Australian Western Sahara Association (AWSA), consisting of 42 pages, mainly of transcripts and compared translations.

3. Relevant blogs on the Nuseiba blogsite
(a) Western Sahara and Faitim’s Story (30 June, 2009) (Followed by many comments.)

“Control of the territory is being fought between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Liberation Front (PLF). Since 1991 most of the territory is controlled by Morocco, with the remainder controlled by the PLF (backed by neighbour Algeria.).”

(b) Mistranslations and Finger-Pointing – Revisiting Stolen (August 2, 2009). Also with many comments.

“A couple of weeks ago my post on the documentary Stolen generated a whole discussion about whether or not slavery exists in the Tindouf refugee camps in Western Sahara. Is there, isn’t there, it went on and on (even though I distinctly remember saying the post wasn’t discussing whether or there was slavery, but rather about the abuse of Fetim’s story for the uses of others.) But never mind. I decided to reserve my opinion on the existence of slavery in the region until after I watched the film. On Friday I had that opportunity (it was screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival) but unfortunately for Fallshaw and Ayala I’m still undecided about the whole issue …”

4. A President Intervenes: Timor’s link to a Saharan struggle by Jose Ramos-Horta (22 July, 2009)

This begins:
“As I visit Australia again, to attend this week’s opening of the Melbourne International Film Festival, I have been confronted by the outcry over the film Stolen, which will screen at the festival and which represents, in microcosm, the importance of truth in the struggle for justice. The film, which makes claims of widespread slavery in the Western Saharan refugee camps, represents many of the ugly realities of this central dynamic. It is a scenario I know only too well.
I have followed closely the question of Western Sahara for decades. In our years of struggle for independence, strong friendship and solidarity grew between the Timorese and the Saharawis. I have met many Saharawis and visited the Saharawi refugee camps and liberated areas twice. I did not see any form of slavery in those camps. Rather, what I know of the Saharawis is that they are enlightened and committed to their cause of freedom.
The situation of Western Sahara is perhaps not well known to Australians. For East Timorese, there are ties which make a mutual understanding easier to find. Both East Timor and Western Sahara were colonised by Iberian powers – Portugal and Spain, respectively; both have been identified by the United Nations as being ready for decolonisation; both were invaded, post-European withdrawal, by regional powers in 1975; both peoples have been subjected to widespread human rights abuses; and both have been caught up in global political trends not of their making.”

Screen culture may be changing our brains

19 March 2009

This theory of Professor Susan Greenfield (and ongoing research by her and, presumably, others) deserves the widest circulation especially among those concerned about the effects of prolonged interaction with computer games and the many social networks which have proliferated on Web 2.0.

This important interview by the eminent TV journalist Kerry O’Brien has just been screened on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 Report (ABC TV) on Thursday, 19/03/2009.

Introduction: “Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, an eminent brain expert who commands enormous respect in her field has sounded a cautionary note about the screen culture of the computer age that she says may be changing our brains, in ways that could have a serious impact on personality and behaviour. As a pioneering scientist she heads a multi-disciplinary Oxford University team investigating neuro-degenerative disorders and also the Oxford Centre for the Science of the Mind, exploring the physical basis of consciousness. Professor Susan Greenfield speaks with Kerry O’Brien from Adelaide.”

Here are some excerpts from the lengthy interview.
Kerry O’Brien: “Susan Greenfield, you’ve warned that screen culture may be changing our brains. You obviously believe that it’s not a change for the better. First of all, what do you mean by screen culture?”

Susan Greenfield: “By screen culture, I mean literally that; a world of two dimensions where for six hours a day or more, people in the western developed world, more particularly kids, are spending time either playing games or on social networking sites and thereby putting themselves in an environment that is very much in the here and now, that has very strong audio and visual sensations, where at the press of a button you get instant feedback from whatever you’re doing.

“But at the same time, you’re perhaps removed from some of the aspects that we take for granted. Those of us who are older or those of us who are born in the 20th century, that we taken for granted. Things like metaphor, abstract concepts, logical narrative, conceptual frame works, long attention spans, imagination. The kind of areas we can explore in more detail, if you like.

“But it’s primarily a world of a small child, a world of the here and now, a world of a sound byte, a world of an instant frozen moment where nothing has consequences, and where everything is literal. Where nothing has a meaning, you’re not saying one thing in terms of something else, you’re saying literally, what you see is what you get.”
Read or view (13 minutes) the rest of this fascinating and alarming dialogue at:, or directly from the 7.30 Report website.

There is also a further 2 minute video clip of a web extra: ‘Extended interview with Susan Greenfield’.
Just another two appetisers in case you have not already opened the link:
Susan Greenfield: “What we know in neuroscience and this is getting really exciting, is that the brain is what we call plastic. That’s to say it’s very sensitive to the environment and that’s why human beings are so brilliant at occupying ecological niches than any other species on the planet. We don’t run fast, we don’t see particularly well, we’re not particularly strong – but what we do fantastically, more than any other species, is that we learn, we adapt.

“And because of this so-called plasticity, this means that your brain is different from anyone else’s for the last hundreds of thousands of years we’ve stalked the plan and it will be never the same again. And every moment you’re alive it’s modified and changed and revised by every little experience, literally leaving its mark on your brain.

“So if that is the case, it follows that the environment in which that brain is developing will be very much influenced by the kind of features of that environment. And if, for the first time – and this is my reasoning – that environment has changed in an unprecedented way, if it’s bombarding you with boom bang and bang images, what I call the “yuck and wow” scenario where every moment you’re having something flash up in your face and bombard your ears. All I’m suggesting is that that might drive brain connections and drive the configuration of your brain cell circuitry into the kind of mindset that mandates a short attention span.”

Susan Greenfield: “I think it can be a problem, like everything, if it’s done to excess. I personally don’t have a social networking site but I certainly communicate, like most people now with access to computers, through email.

“Of course, that’s not a problem. It becomes a problem if it’s your main form of communication. I met a young person who boasted they had 900 friends. And that made me rather sad as to what he thought a friend really was and what kind of quality of relationship that you might have with one, if there’s any one of 900. And how often, if you have 900 friends, how much time of the day do you spend in sustaining a friendship with 900 people when there’s only 24 hours of the day. And however advanced or slick the culture, the inescapable fact: you only have 24 hours a day and if you spend six hours doing one thing, that excludes you, by definition, of doing other things.”