Inner City Press


In Other Media-e.g. Somalia, Ghana, Azerbaijan, The Gambia   For further information, click here to contact us          .

Home -

Search is just below this first article

Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

Reuters AlertNet 7/14/07 7/19/07 6/29/07 6/14/7 6/1/7

How to Contact Us


Support this work by buying this book

Click on cover for secure site orders

also includes "Toxic Credit in the Global Inner City"

Inner City Press Podcast --

At the UN, the Story of Five Seconds of Silence, Fixing Russian Misinterpretation

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, August 25, updated Aug. 29 -- What's in a word? At the United Nations, which is sometimes called the House of Words, even after they are said, words can be amended.

            On August 21, Russia's permanent representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin held a press conference in which he accused Georgia of "making up" allegations that Russia dropped a missile sixty kilometers from Tblisi. Near the end of the briefing, an up-and-coming Mongolian journalist, Nergui Manalsuren of IPS, asked in Russian what would be the legal consequences if Georgia was lying?

            The English language voiceover, however, provided through headphones in the briefing room and later on the UN's Internet web-cast, translated the question, according to a transcript subsequently provided by the interpreter, as "What does Georgia want from a legal point of view if it is proved that this is - eh - this is Russia's blame" -- that is, 180 degrees wrong.

            An hour later, playing back the UN web-cast in order to transcript Ambassador Churkin's answer, the mis-interpretation was noticed. Accompanied by this correspondent, the Mongolian journalist went to the UN's Russian translation service on the 14th floor of UN Headquarters. (On August 6 a occupant of this floor, Vyacheslav Manokhin, was indicted for providing false UN documents to obtain and sell visas in Uzbekistan, to attend non-existent UN conferences in New York, click here for that. On August 21, Mr. Manokhin's name plate was still on the door to his office, and he still had his mailbox in the office.)

            The difference between written translation and oral interpretation was quickly pointed out. Interpretation is in the basement, with offices looking directly out onto the East River. The Russian interpreter was summoned -- his name is Sergei Mikheyev, he lives just across the street, his supervisor said.  Mr. Mikheyev is UN staffer with the highest professional rank of P-5, making some $100,000 a year (the range for P-5 is from $86,000 to $117,000, as of 2005). He was polite but initially tried to convince the Mongolian journalist that she was mis-remembering her question. But a close listening to the Web-case, and to Amb. Churkin's answer, disproved this. Mr. Mikheyev and his supervisor asked, "What can we do?"

Amb. Churkin listening to translation -- but is it accurate?

            The solution arrived at was directed at fixing the Web-cast. After several calls to the UN's internet service on the 10th floor, the interpreter went and did a voice-over of that portion of the briefing, dropping the reference to "if Russia dropped the missile."  Fixed, then. Except that the raw tapes still exist, including in the possession of this correspondent, with the Russian and the simultaneous English mis-interpretation.

            With the UN system so clogged with bureaucracy and excuses, it was surprising to see how quickly the Web-cast could be changed. Surprising and somewhat alarming, a UN media worker remarked. Already there are cases of the UN neglecting to include names and things that are clearly said in their transcripts of noon briefing. For that, the archived web-cast of sound is the back-up. When that can so seamlessly be changed, mischief could so easily be done...

Update and explanation of August 29, 3:30 p.m. -- the interpreter Sergei Mikheyev has provided a transcript of his interpretation, and in the text above, the reference to "if Russian dropped the missile" has been changed to "Russia's blame." Inner City Press also wishes to make explicit that the theme of this "process" story is how interpretation disputes, which are not infrequent, are sometimes handled. If anything, Mr. Mikheyev's willingness to seek to correct the public record was commendable. The other material and details about the UN, including the implications of the ease with this things can be switched, are clearly not Mr. Mikheyev's responsibility, and we wish him well.

* * *

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (which had to be finalized without DPA having respond.)  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

Feedback: Editorial [at]

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540

Search WWW Search

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006-07 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540