Say what? SABC botches Brics breakfast briefing

China's President Xi Jinping with President Jacob Zuma ahead of the fifth Brics summit. (Gallo)

China's President Xi Jinping with President Jacob Zuma ahead of the fifth Brics summit. (Gallo)

The five leaders representing the emerging-nation bloc were all due to address the media for the first time on Wednesday during the fifth Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit, with the event being broadcast on national television.

But many South Africans were left scratching their heads and wondering what exactly the most powerful figures in the developing world had to say after the SABC neglected to turn up the volume on the translations.

President Jacob Zuma and India's Commerce Minister Anand Sharma both addressed the delegation in English, with both underlining the prospects the Brics group have before them.

"The opportunities are immense. The time is now for the Brics business council to lead private sector investment and development," Zuma said.

Sharma added that the onus was on the group to lead the fight against youth unemployment and identify economic sectors that would stimulate the global economy.

"We have to ensure that the agenda our leaders adopt will be taken with great cooperation," he added.

Barely audible
But Brazil's President Dilma Rouseff, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping all spoke in their native langauges.

Consequently, nobody outside the auditorium clearly heard what they said. Interpreters eagerly relayed the trio's sentences but their translations were only broadcast as a small din under their voices.

Viewers quickly took to Twitter to voice their contempt at seemingly being disregarded.

"So is no one at the SABC noticing that the translations aren't loud enough?!?," asked Lukhanyo Neer.

"Obviously the translation service is not for those of us watching. *Poor planning & total disregard for viewers*," tweeted Mkhuleko Hlengwa, leader of the Inkhatha Freedom Party's youth brigade and South Africa's youngest MP.

Nicole Naicker echoed Hlengwa's sentiment and tweeted: "For people watching the Brics, SABC shouldn't assume that we understand all the languages."

Dennis Mashigo was particularly peeved.

"Some idiot at the SABC forgot that all this dignitaries will be speaking in their mother tongue, so we get no translation," he tweeted.

'Massive' event
The SABC's chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng told the Mail & Guardian that the event was an important one for the SABC.

"For us it's massive," he said. "This is the first time in this country where you have all the leaders of the [Brics] countries talking to the public. It was wonderful."

Motsoeneng acknowledged that there were technical problems with the broadcast but said it was part of a learning curve for the broadcaster.

"This is the first time that we've done that, where you have different leaders who can't speak a certain language," he said.

"We should sit down and discuss how we should handle such situations where you have people speaking different languages."

Should a similar situation arise in future, one option might be to use subtitles, he said.

Despite the technical glitches, Motsoeneng said that the SABC did not receive any complaints about the broadcast but feedback on the programme was good.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.
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