Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

ultimate ethical risk

December 1st, 2004

from, reported last Friday:
“Natalia Dmitruk, a sign language presenter with the Ukrainian TV channel UT-1 has ignored the text read by the news presenter and instead transmitted the message that the results of the elections were rigged, Russia’s NTV television reports.”
She’s concerned that the station might drop sign language interpreting altogether, but explained (in Ukrainian Sign Language as part of her protest): ” I am very disappointed by the fact that I had to interpret lies.” She then joined a strike called by journalists of the TV station.

A Nov 26, 2004 story by the BBC on the Ukraine’s television media against censorship includes this bit: “the sign-language presenter said that in an earlier bulletin, she had rejected the pro-government script and informed her viewers instead of the allegations of vote-rigging.”
~ thanks, Cole, for sending on this news! so many questions it raises – which ethic is “higher” – interpreter’s impartiality and “faithfulness to the message” or freedom of political expression? It’s unclear from the reporting whether anyone “caught” what the interpreter did, or if she revealed it herself – which is also interesting. An open admission of “breaking role”!


Categories: Interpreting, Media
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5 Responses to “ultimate ethical risk”

  1. Carole says:

    Ethics aside, how do you know if the interpreter, of a different culture, actually admitted to breaking role?

  2. steph says:

    Ah – you busted me! 🙂 I don’t know how Ms. Dmitruk framed it for herself – whether she thinks it was a “violation” or not. And this is the HEART of the discussion we had at RID’s last conference (chicago)….does this term, “breaking role” always only refer to supposedly “bad” “unethical” behavior, or is it also used – confusingly! – to refer to behavior that is WITHIN THE LEGITIMATE PURVIEW of the interpreter’s role? As for instance, “a different role” or “in flow” or….LOL…we have no term!
    My hypothesis as to why we have no term, is that these kind of decisions are the ones that invite the most severe criticism from Deaf persons – such as the accusation of “taking over”. Because emotions get so high, its hard to sustain a conversation, and therefore we haven’t yet been able to figure out a consistent, standard terminology for “categories” of decision-making such as, under what conditions does an interpreter “tell the truth” and under what conditions does an interpreter “stick to the message”.
    Hey! Wicked good to see you here!!! 🙂

  3. Carole says:

    Smiling…wicked cool to see ya too.
    A clarification question: Am I correct in assuming that the “we” in your post refers to your group of like-minded interpreters?

  4. Ben Karlin says:

    I don’t know that it’s possible to “break” one’s role. It may be that Ms. Dmitruk changed the definition of her role or understood her role to be one different than others understood it to be.

  5. steph says:

    Oh Carole, you are so good! 🙂 The “we” referred most specifically to the interpreters who attended my workshop at RID two years ago on “Breaking Role.” There was this weird confusion of examples – some that were clearly violations (even if there were extenuating circumstances – such as an interpreter responding to a (hearing) interlocutor with a quick retort and slamming the door as they stormed out of the room – an action brought on by this hearing person’s consistent prejudical attitude toward the deaf person) and other situations that were more….murky? Where participants generally agreed that the interpreter did “the right thing” in the situation, but were hesitant to describe that behavior as “in role”, feeling that it was somehow different/beyond the usual/traditional way of understanding what it means to be “in role.”
    Beyond the specifics of that workshop, I did intend the “we” to refer generally to the profession as a whole – not just to “like minded” interpreters (I’m unclear how many would fit in a group that was defined by having a similar perspective as me!), but to the fact that as a profession there is no standard, official version of “role.” Some people advocate dropping the term completely…ok…and replace it with what? In the original research I did, it seemed that, if pressed, interpreters would come up with a lengthy way to describe behaviors “beyond” the traditional conception of role – some called it being an ally, some called it “a different role”, some wouldn’t “call” it anything (!), and some insisted there was no difference, that it’s ALL “in role” – that’s the point Ben is making, I think.
    My point is there’s no consistency, no common term or phrase or concept that encompasses the range of “things” interpreters “do” that is agreed upon. Your questions hiighlight this (!) by pointing out that a Deaf view may be excluded from my assertion of “we”. And I’d say this is the exact HEART of the dilemma! There is no broadly shared agreement between the Deaf community and the interpreting community (which also includes some Deaf and many mother-father-deaf persons).

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