Opinion – Lost in translation

The topic I choose to focus on today is strangely linked to the return of about 59 local residents on a chartered flight from Wuhan to Macau today.

It’s surely positive that the local authorities are following up on their responsibility to take care of the health and safety of any Macau SAR resident left stranded in the epicenter of this devastating new illness.

However, it is also curious that just one week ago it seemed this decision was a risky ‘gung-ho’ mission imposed by the pressure of some reporters.

All it took was some comments from local Health Bureau Director Lei Chin Ion stating that the government was under a lot of pressure to conduct this mission, for several netizens to take to that rational and balanced debate table that is social media.

For many days many reporters, I dare to say mainly reporters linked to Portuguese and English language media, repeatedly asked government officials questions in the daily 5:00pm press conferences about whether the local government would charter a plane to bring Macau residents in Hubei back to the city.

The comments from Dr. Lei were enough to warrant a deluge from netizens inquiring why authorities were putting the health of local citizens at risk by bowing under the pressure of these ‘pesky’ reporters, who keep asking the same questions over and over.

I was then pleasantly surprised by suddenly discovering that local media had such power as to bend local authorities to its will. Who would’ve thought?

Thankfully, the next day Dr. Lei promptly clarified that the media had every right to question authorities and were only doing their job, and that the “pressure” he referred to concerned the local government’s responsibility to look after local residents and the difficulty in carrying out the airlift.

This was something that had been building up, as countries and regions such as the United States and Hong Kong had already airlifted or were planning to airlift their residents out of Hubei.

It was good to see that self-motivation was indeed the driver for the government’s decision and not just some annoying questions in the daily briefings.

One also needs to address the sometimes gruelling experience some non-Chinese-speaking reporters need to undergo every day to try and provide clear and precise information on an extremely serious healthy crisis under difficult circumstances.

Every 5:00pm reporters have to make do with Portuguese translations of an ever-changing quality.

Translators have all our respect for the hard work they do in trying to make precise on-the-fly translations of important case numbers, policies and announcements to the public.

However, sometimes translations are just too hard to follow, and this is something every non-Mandarin speaker in the city had already learned in attempting to navigate either asking for assistance from Mandarin-speaking co-workers or by repeating the question several times.

Unfortunately, that last tactic is only as effective as the patience of public officials or press relations personnel.

Each reporter is only given two questions in two rounds every press briefing and non-Mandarin-speaking reporters regularly have to waste precious questions just clarifying small minutiae that could completely change the meaning of an article.

Just last week during one press briefing so much effort was spent trying to just ascertain the age of the local residents that would be in the airplane.

However, it is also discouraging to repeatedly see government officials dismiss questions either with a “we already mentioned this the other day” or providing an answer to a completely different question, leaving the reporter to wonder if they just chose to ignore the question or if it just got lost in translation.

The press conferences are also transmitted live and it is common to see netizens expressing annoyance over the “foreign” reporters who endlessly repeat questions they deem to be irrelevant.

Residents in this city are all impacted by the Covid-19 crisis regardless of their nationality or language and all deserve at least accurate information provided at least in Chinese, Portuguese, and English.

We are all tired, all of us, public officials, media and residents who have had to follow the epidemic from day one and patience is a scarce resource these days.

Nevertheless, patience and mutual understanding can go a long way to pacifying residents.

In the end, we all just want to see everyone safe and sound and we’re all happy these Macau residents can get back home.

MNA Editor-in-Chief