C4 Responds to Lying Subtitles Charge

In November we critiqued the Unreported World episode on the UK’s Channel 4 that documented the efforts of the Gazan Paralympic team to qualify for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Amongst the usual anti-Israel bias and standard “blame Israel” mindset, something particularly crude and unethical stood out.

To recall, the subtitles during an interview with a Palestinian paralympian on how he became disabled, conspicuously omitted that he had been treated in an Israeli hospital.

Aside from being an inaccurate translation of what was said, the removal of this pertinent and relevant fact added to the overall negativity directed towards Israel in the documentary.

 [Video segment courtesy of Richard Millett’s blog.]

One HonestReporting subscriber sent us Channel 4’s response to a complaint concerning the subtitling:

We spoke to the production company responsible for the programme and they have advised us as follows:-

When an interviewee speaks at speed, subtitles have to be condensed to allow the reader time to read them. This is done with great care to preserve the key message and meaning of the sound bite.

In the section of the programme complained about, Mr Khamis Zaqhout described how he came to be disabled. According to our literal translation, he said: ‘After the accident I went to Israeli hospitals, and I entered the rehabilitation centres. Of course, I first practiced sports at the Abu Raya Centre and I felt that this was a substitute for losing something.’

In the film this was condensed to: ‘After my accident I went to a rehabilitation centre. At the centre I played sport for the first time. I felt it was a good replacement for something I had lost.’

This was an interview about Mr Zaqhout’s discovery of sport, not about who treated him and where. Therefore, the reference to Israeli hospitals was only edited out for reasons of subtitling on screen space and so was the reference to the Palestinian Abu Raya centre. If the film had been comparing Israeli and Palestinian medical systems we would have kept these references in. Please be assured no bias was intended and none occurred.

The subtitle should have said “centres”, and we apologise for this. We acted in good faith and used an accredited translator. However, we do not accept this was to hide the fact Mr Zaqhout was treated in Israeli clinics. As a way of background, Mr Zaqhout was injured whilst working on a building site in Israel where he broke his back and was taken to hospital. He was not sent from Gaza to Israel for treatment. He was then moved to the Abu Raya rehabilitation centre in the West Bank where he received extensive rehabilitation.

Unreported World can be watched from the Channel 4 website across the world, and anyone who speaks Arabic will hear these words. I hope the above explanation puts your mind at ease and demonstrates there was no intention to deceive.

Even if we accept that there was no malicious intent on the part of the production company concerning the subtitling and that no bias was intended, the claim that none occurred is patently false when considered in the overall context of the documentary.

This included the implication that Israel indiscriminately targets Palestinian civilians in acts of retaliation and retribution. And, like the omitting of the Israeli hospital from the subtitling, so the lack of relevant context also contributed to the negative portrayal of Israel. For example, Gaza is portrayed as a territory under siege, a virtual prison. Yet, no mention of why Israel has blockaded Gaza, no mention of Hamas, no mention of the Egyptian border. Only Israel is the responsible party to Gaza’s difficult situation.

Perhaps, if we are to accept C4’s statement that no bias was intended, we are left with the disturbing possibility that Israel has become such a byword for negative connotations that this sort of bias has seeped into the subconscious and is part of the natural discourse, particularly in the UK.

That is why Channel 4’s explanation is so worrying.

[Click here to view the full program. Warning: HR is not responsible for the website hosting this video.]