Translating for Television: Challenge or Submission?

Creus, Jaume
Quaderns Divulgatius, 12 1999

In 1983, when TV3 (the Catalan-language television station) began regular broadcasting, a model of television for Catalonia was planned. The doors of new jobs were open to specialists in Catalan language and literature, and above all to professional translators. For those of us who came in from the beginning, this also represented a model which had to become reality: a requirement for quality in general. The vehicle for the programme contents was a language which was still far from being completely standardised, while Catalan speakers were not familiar with the different colloquial registers which are essential in translation for dubbing all types of films. And still less were they accustomed to working with adapting scripts of comedy series which required comedy resources in Catalan with few local and popular references.
Competition meant that the appearance in society of private television stations did not raise quality standards, but rather tended towards the extremes of crudeness and vacuity. I can affirm that, at least in the early activities of TV3, the idea of quality reigned in the foreign production section, and this we subscribed to as linguists. There were constant revisions and discussions concerning the use of language and the possibilities of applications, which greatly helped us to meet the challenge before us. The movement of the majority of linguists to the dubbing studios, instead of continuing their work in the new TV3 building, put a definitive end to this situation. Nowadays, documentary translating still represents a challenge, though the responsibility does not weigh on the translators alone but also the different organisms which can help with the updating of scientific, proper names, place names, and so on.
As for the question of submission, there remains the fact that if a translator wants work, he or she will have to charge below the prices more or less stipulated years ago. Now there are no emergency rates and the translator submits to the fear represented by the label of homologation which may be denied to him or her for reasons which are not always related with the quality of the work done. Added to this is the self-censorship imposed by TV3 in the domain of crude language, swearing, and sexual terms, which can adversely affect the tone the scriptwriter or director has wanted to give to the film.
In the early days, translating for television was a magnificent and well-paid challenge, but now it involves submission to time, economic impositions, and even, in certain situations, to subtle duress. I do not intend my words to be dispiriting, but to express a serious concern about the dignity that translators working in television are yet to achieve, even though they are essential because they constitute the basic ingredient for the cold serving of dubbing.