Wanted: translators for press conferences

30 May,2012

Ranjona Banerji

By Ranjona Banerji


This is targeted at TV newswallahs. They have a tendency to show us live press conferences that they deem to be important, from across the country. This week, we had Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, after the victory of the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League. Then we had Kiran Reddy, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, on the arrest of his predecessor’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy by the Central Bureau of Investigation.


All very commendable, bringing us the news when it happens. The grouse? Banerjee spoke in Bengali and Reddy in Telugu. This of course makes it virtually impossible for anyone to understand what they’re saying. The on-screen translation process was extremely slow and then, only paraphrased their remarks. Which means for about 3 minutes of someone talking, you got about two lines of material. The reason I know this is because I understand Bengali and have a smattering of Telugu.


If anyone is old enough to remember, it was a bit like the scene in Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator where the typist is taking dictation from the Adolf Hitler character, Adenoid Hynkel. Hynkel talks and talks and the stenographer types two words.


On the BBC and al Jazeera this week, a live press conference with the British foreign secretary and Russian foreign minister on the Syria issue was also covered.


When the Russian minister spoke there was a live voice translation. One understands that the translations were provided by the governments concerned and not the TV channels but it is a process which a multilingual country like ours needs to understand.


It might be more sensible for a reporter present to provide a paraphrasing of events rather than subject people to listening to something they cannot understand. Neither press conference, it has to be said, was particularly scintillating.


* * *


There were few scuffles and a lathi-charge in Kolkata’s Eden Gardens when the celebrations were being held. All afternoon, Times Now behaved as if it was covering a major riot and hundreds had been badly injured. Even if you dislike Mamata Banerjee and Shah Rukh Khan, some perspective please. NDTV called it a “mild lathi-charge” which is an unfortunate choice of words but perhaps a more appropriate sentiment.


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