Late on 5 February 2019, BBC HARDtalk aired an interview with Venezuelan defector Christian Zerpa. The latter was a judge on the Venezuelan Supreme Court. Evidence has since come to light, however, which questions the accuracy of the BBC translation of some of Zerpa’s responses. Yet the BBC continues to stand by its seriously questionable translations.
Blatant exaggerations during a poor interview
The Canary previously published a rigorous critique of the HARDtalk interview:
BBC's Stephen Sackur offered a series of leading questions, regime change talking points, counselling on coup tactics, & then finally, anti-socialist bashing.#Venezuela #HARDtalk interview was a fiasco.
— M. A. E. (@MElmaazi) February 9, 2019
A professional Spanish interpreter, however, has since told The Canary that he had serious doubts about some of the BBC‘s translations. In particular, certain translations significantly inflated words or phrases relating to quantities.
While the interpreter prefers to remain anonymous, two fluent Spanish speakers at The Canary have corroborated that the exaggerations are very real.
The Canary contacted the BBC for an explanation. We explained that:
While there are a number of errors and discrepancies, we shall focus on the following three, which are the most blatant and egregious.
So one of Zerpa’s BBC-translated responses reads:
Chavistas prosecute anyone who dissents from the way they rule, and there’s an infinite amount of cases of public figures and Chavistas that have been incarcerated, and many have died in jail.
That exaggerates “various/different cases“ to “an infinite amount of cases“; a clear and significant exaggeration of Zerpa’s words. Then, “some have died” becomes “many have died“; again, a blatant overstatement.
Later, another translation reads:
And it is incomprehensible that some people who didn’t even have a place to live, right now have become economic potentates, rich millionaires.
This takes “with a lot of money” and turns it into “rich millionaires“; quite a leap.
The BBC responded to The Canary‘s inquiry with the following statement:
The process HARDtalk uses for translation and subtitling goes through several checks, including independent simultaneous translators. We are confident that our subtitles are fair when considering the full context of Mr Zerpa’s answers.
Zerpa: the information that the BBC left out
BBC HARDtalk also failed to mention two more key facts about Zerpa. The first is that the Venezuelan Supreme Court released a statement alleging that he had been under investigation since November 2018. According to Venezuelanalysis, the allegations include:
“sexual harassment, psychological violence, and lascivious acts in the workplace,” which had allegedly led to many female employees quitting. These accusations, the court claims, pushed Zerpa to abandon the country “to avoid justice and so that his crimes may remain unpunished.”
The exaggerated interpretations, the leading questions and statements from Sackur, and the lack of discussion of Zerpa’s possible incentives for defecting all amount to a serious BBC fail. And these all appear to work in favour of the ongoing Western-led coup attempt in Venezuela rather than against it.
Licence-fee payers deserve so much better.
Featured image via BBC iPlayer
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