News – Bizarre mistakes in live transcription

Errors in Ceefax subtitling

The Guardian today reports on some of the mistakes encountered on the BBC subtitling service, ahead of Ceefax’s 35th anniversary in September. While pre-recorded captioning is now very accurate, the article finds that ‘live news text is often a laugh a minute, with howlers attributed to straight-faced newsreaders, celebs and unsuspecting politicians.’

For example:

  • Bernard Madoff, on his niece: ‘I’m very close to the regulators – my knees just married one.’
  • Kirsty Wark wishes well to all candidates for Speaker of the House of Commons: ‘Good luck to war!’
  • ‘I was lovely’, says Joanna Lumley, losing a ‘t’ and incurring the wrath of the Nepalese, who retort: ‘Daughter of Appalled!’
  • Sarkozy is hospitalised with ‘a minor nerd [nerve] complaint.’
  • A Tamil woman in Sri Lanka gets ‘50,000 votes for camel [Tamil] rights.’
  • In football there’s a win for Arse Net. Lance Armstrong, meanwhile, mysteriously notes: ‘I bought a pie raincoat.’
  • The weather: ‘Wales will be largely dried.’
  • Finally, ‘Thank you for Jenny Knass [joining us].’

Subtitling is of course a complex process, and the BBC explain that ‘achieving 100% accuracy live on air is incredibly difficult.’ The subtitles are created either by stenographers on a special phonetic keyboard or by subtitlers via a speech-recognition system. Mistakes therefore creep in when phonetic sounds are miskeyed, or revoicing is misrecognised.

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