Baltic translations for Fox TV undergo Russian censorship

The original content of Fox TV channel is translated for Baltic audiences along guidelines that have been developed in Russia and require glossing over certain topics seen as sensitive by Russian censors.

The Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) has received a complaint from a viewer about this situation, that the translations of some Fox programs are deficient, and points out that this is the first time it is hearing about such translation guidelines.

NEPLP spokesman Kalvis Gavars told LETA that Fox is a TV channel in Spain’s jurisdiction and its programs are rebroadcast in Latvia’s territory, which means that the translation issues have to be dealt with between the holder of the programs’ rights and the translators, while the quality of the translations is outside the National Electronic Mass Media Council’s area of competence.

According to a letter to the translators of Fox programs which has been obtained by LETA, the translators have to follow Russian subtitling guidelines requiring glossing over or “softening content” concerning accidents, homosexual relationships, “anti-Russian propaganda”, narcotics, extremist activities and suicides.

For instance, the translators are instructed to “soften” all negative language about the Russian military and space program, policies of the Russian president and government, while positive texts about same-sex relationships have to be made more generalized so they could be attributed to relationships of any kind.

Authors of the letter admit that such an approach to translation cannot be consider good practice but that Fox content comes to the Baltic states through Russia which is why the subtitles have to be in line with the Russian law.

“Of course, such softening of language can be seen as controversial and may not be in line with the common practice, but it is required by law,” the letter to the translators says.

Sille Russ, Fox Marketing and PR Manager for the Baltics, could not be contacted for comment on the translation guidelines.

Igors Djacenko, the Latvian head of SDI Media subtitling company, said that the new guidelines do not require the translators to change or distort information but to “double check” their translation of texts concerning the aforementioned topics.

“In the process of their work, the translators focus their attention on sensitive topics, mark them and together with editors assess the definitions and terms,” Djacenko explained.

Anda Rozukalne, a media expert and associate professor at Riga Stradins University, said that Russia uses any channels and tools, including translation, to distort information wherever it can.

She admitted, however, that under the current regulation NEPLP is unable to reverse an intermediary’s requirements regarding the TV channel’s content.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: As a result of the unexpected popularity of this story on certain social media channels, we wish to reiterate that the channels involved are those of Fox International Channels, based in Estonia. These are Fox Life, Fox Crime, and the National Geographic Channel, but not the Fox News channel.

(The second paragraph has been updated after a correction was submitted to LETA by NEPLP. The picture was also changed.)

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