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October 1, 2013 5:31 pm

Fars Editor-in-Chief Slams CNN in Scathing Editorial After Botched Translation of Rouhani ‘Holocaust’ Interview

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avatar by Joshua Levitt

Tehran-based Fars News Agency and Atlanta-based CNN.

Tehran's Fars News Agency and Atlanta-based CNN.

Iranian officials know to walk a fine line when the world asks about the Holocaust.

Yes, there were Nazi atrocities in World War II, and, yes, we should “feel sympathy for all those who have lost their lives or lost a family or friend in that war no matter whether they are Jews, Christians or Muslims,” as Seyed Mostafa Khoshcheshm, editor-in-chief of the semi-official Iranian Fars News Agency English, gently wrote in a bylined editorial for the state news agency this past weekend.

But the “H” word, and all of its implications, specifically, that six million Jews were killed by Nazi firing squads and Nazi death camps, shall remain unspoken, which is why Fars was aghast to learn via CNN that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had recognized the Holocaust to the world.

From Tehran’s point of view, either Rouhani had just broken the unwritten code, which he had observed in an interview previously broadcast on NBC News last week, or there had been a mistake, in this case, if not from the CNN editorial team, from the interview translator, apparently hired by the Iranian delegation, rather than the U.S. news network.

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The Algemeiner, which reviews Iranian, along with Egyptian, Turkish, Jordanian and Russian, press daily for news that impacts Israel, was the first Western media outlet to report the objection from Fars and publish their re-translation of Rouhani’s comments in Persian and English.

Fars’ Khoshcheshm wasn’t satisfied with CNN shifting the blame to the translator, as CNN’s host for the interview Christiane Amanpour speaks Persian.

In his editorial, headlined “Is Misleading the Public a Duty of CNN?”, he berates CNN for “still trying to acquit themselves of any shortcoming” and “now they insist on insulting the public understanding, unless we come to believe that CNN and its host are so lost that they are not acquainted with professional courtesy, honesty, trustworthiness, truthfulness, and professionalism.” He asks: “Do they not owe an apology to the public opinion, and not just to the people of Iran, but to the Americans and the rest of the world, specially the tens of the world media outlets that misinformed their nations just on the basis of a wrong broadcast?”

Of the core question, did Rouhani say the H word or not, the media consensus, as now reported by Fars, is that he did not:

When WSJ Assistant Book Editor Sohrab Ahmari is asked to compare the translations of FNA and CNN to see if there is any ground for complaint, Ahmari (an Iranian-American) says in a tweeted message on Wednesday:

“Fars is right! I read/listened to #Rouhani in Pers. He condemns Nazi crimes but says Shoah “for historians to verify”

@SohrabAhmari Could you hear Rouhani’s answer behind the voiceover? If so, is Fars’s transcription accurate? And their translation?

@GileadIni Fars News translation IS accurate. I’m literally at my wits end re how far some journos will go to sell this moderate narrative.

@SohrabAhmari Thanks. The transcription, too? Fars’ Persian script matches the audio?

@GileadIni Yes! Much more felicitous.

A Wednesday article of the Wall Street Journal (a version of which also appeared on page A14 in the U.S. edition on Thursday) strongly supports FNA’s objection to CNN, saying:

“According to CNN’s translation of Mr. Rouhani’s remarks, the Iranian President insisted that ‘whatever criminality they [the Nazis] committed against the Jews, we condemn.’ Yet as Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars pointed out, Mr. Rouhani never uttered anything approximating those words. Nor, contrary to the CNN version, did he utter the word ‘Holocaust’. Instead, he spoke about ‘historical events’. Our independent translation of Mr. Rouhani’s comments confirms that Fars, not CNN, got the Farsi right.”

Elsewhere, the WSJ article says:

“We’ll leave it to CNN to account for its translation, and why it made Mr. Rouhani seem so much more conciliatory than he was. Meantime, points for honesty go to the journalists at Fars, who for reasons that probably range from solidarity to self-preservation aren’t disposed to whitewash their President’s ideological predilections.”

Commentary Magazine, in an article on Wednesday, says a comparison of FNA’s translation with the one which has been aired by the CNN reveals:

“When the two are compared it is clear that the network expanded on what he (i.e. President Rouhani) said to help convey the impression that he was condemning Holocaust denial when it is clear that he did no such thing.””While the two have similarities, there is no doubt that the news outlet (i.e. CNN) airbrushed Rouhani’s comments to the point where they are far more acceptable for a Western audience. The actual remarks make it clear that Rouhani is as much of an agnostic about the extent of the Holocaust as Ahmadinejad.”

Elsewhere, Commentary adds:

“It is up to CNN to explain this attempt to falsify the content of the interview that goes beyond the usual discrepancies that often pop up in translations and crosses over into editorial malfeasance.”

You may also add to the list a report by Business Insider which says:

“Now a third translation of Rouhani’s comments concurs. The Wall Street Journal writes today that their independent translation agrees with Fars. Rouhani did not say the word ‘Holocaust,’ instead speaking vaguely about ‘historical events.'”So what happened? A CNN source told Business Insider that the translator who worked on the interview was ‘hired by the Iranians’, and the interview was ‘re-voiced/dubbed exactly as she translated.’ CNN has now posted the entire transcript online.”

“Perhaps it seems like semantics, or an honest result of different translation styles. However, given how closely the interview was being watched — not to mention the fact that the interviewer, Christiane Amanpour, is fluent in Farsi herself — it’s a big issue.”

Fars demanded that CNN “correct its mistake and air the interview with a proper translation,” saying that “as long as the American news network insists on its stance, people are entitled to continue adding to the negative comments that they have left in different world media outlets in protest at CNN’s attempted falsification of information.”

Fars said its “only goal has been to stop an unethical practice and also feed true information to the public as required by the codes of professional journalism, especially since a lack of such a practice by the Iranian media during President Ahmadinejad’s years in office provided an opportunity for many in the West to misinterpret and mistranslate his words in a bid to provoke public sentiments and stir tensions between Iran and the US. Such dishonest practices served no one’s interest, but those who are hungry for war.”

Fars, which has its own history of dodgy reporting, concluded: “What we stand against is the falsification, fabrication and purposeful misinterpretation of statements or beliefs, especially when they are directed at our esteemed president.”

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