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Government interfered to remove 'austerity' from reports on Merkel's Athens visit, says journalist

Official ANA news agency pressed into mistranslating 'austerity measures' as 'consolidation measures'

Any speaker of German knows that 'Sparmaßnahmen' translates as 'austerity measures'. But Greek 'government circles' would have us believe that it means 'consolidation measures' and ensured that reports published by Greece's semiofficial ANA news agency used that mistranslation

No austerity, just consolidation: Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Photo: Reuters) No austerity, just consolidation: Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Photo: Reuters) The Berlin correspondent with Greece's semiofficial Athens News Agency said she wonders whether her employer is a "government propaganda mechanism" after she said it gave into pressure from government circles to remove references to the term "austerity" from her translation of a German government statement issued last week ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Athens. 

On the day of Angela Merkel's visit on Friday, journalist Faye Karaviti said that Greek "government circles" intervened to have the term "austerity measures" replaced with "consolidation measures" in her translation of a statement from the German chancellery.

Shortly before, Karaviti had filed a report on based on a statement from the chancellery which said: "Die Bundeskanzlerin trifft mit dem griechischen Ministerpräsidenten Antonis Samaras zusammen, um den konsequenten Reformkurs seiner Regierung zu loben. Ihr Besuch ist aber auch ein Signal, dass die Bundesregierung die erfolgreichen Sparmaßnahmen Griechenlands weiter unterstützen wird."

That translates as: "The federal chancellor will meet with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in order to praise his government's consistent reform efforts. Her visit is also a sign that the federal government will continue to support Greece's successful austerity measures."

But in a letter to ANA's board, Karaviti said shortly after filing the report, she received a call from her editor, Ioannis Nanos, who conveyed to her the dissatisfation in government circles", who made it known that they objected to her translation of the German word Sparmaßnahmen as "austerity measures", which is what it means.

Rather, the government circles insisted, it should have been translated as "consolidation measures".

Nominally independent from the government, the ANA supplies much of the Greek media with wire reports, which are often reproduced verbatim.

In her written complaint to the agency, Karaviti said she then emailed the original text of Merkel's speech to Nanos and her chief editor Petros Dimitropoulos, including a reference from the online Linguee dictionary showing that the translation of Sparmaßnahmen is "austerity measures".

Karaviti, who received no reply to her email, later learned that the ANA had issued a correction to her original wire, replacing the term "austerity" with a misspelling of the Greek term for "consolidation" (instead of εξυγίανσης, the word εξυγείανση was inserted). She later read that ANA had issued a further correction, claiming there "had been a translation error".

But ANA's amended wire lead with the following: "Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens will carry a message that the German government will continue to support the consolidation course in Greece ... ". In the revised wire, all references to the term austerity were removed. 

In her complaint, Karaviti states that "a basic knowledge of the German language is sufficient to see that the second [ANA] version has no connection with the German text".

She added that this was the second time in four months that ANA management had conveyed to her "dissatisfaction within the government" about reporting on meetings between Samaras and Merkel.

"I wonder, therefore, if the ANA-MPA is an independent agency tasked with providing the media with reliable information or a government propaganda mechanism," asked Karaviti, who is married to Dimitris Droutsas, who was Pasok foreign minister from 2010 to 2011.

Embassy translation

In its reply, the ANA said that following the controversy surrounding the translation, it requested an "accurate translation" of the chancellery's statement from the German embassy in Athens.

The embassy's press office, according to the ANA statement, provided the following translation: "Moreover, her visit is a signal that the federal government will continue to support Greece's successful measures in the field of fiscal consolidation."

Screengrab from the German chancellery's original article (since removed) ahead of Merkel's visit to Athens (Screengrab: matrix24.gr) Screengrab from the German chancellery's original article (since removed) ahead of Merkel's visit to Athens (Screengrab: matrix24.gr) The statement from the German chancellery clearly refers to "erfolgreiche Sparmaßnahmen", which translates as "successful austerity measures" (Screengrab: EnetEnglish) The statement from the German chancellery clearly refers to "erfolgreiche Sparmaßnahmen", which translates as "successful austerity measures" (Screengrab: EnetEnglish)

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