UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

Archives at risk: protecting the world's identities

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage” to be celebrated annually on 27 October to build global awareness of the various issues at stake in preserving the audiovisual heritage.

Audiovisual documents, such as films, radio and television programmes, audio and video recordings, contain the primary records of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Transcending language and cultural boundaries, appealing immediately to the eye and the ear, to the literate and illiterate, audiovisual documents have transformed society by becoming a permanent complement to the traditional written record.

However, they are extremely vulnerable and it is estimated that we have no more than 10 to 15 years to transfer audiovisual records to digital to prevent their loss. Much of the world's audiovisual heritage has already been irrevocably lost through neglect, destruction, decay and the lack of resources, skills, and structures, thus impoverishing the memory of mankind. Much more will be lost if stronger and concerted international action is not taken.

It was in this context, that the General Conference in 2005 approved the commemoration of a World Day for Audiovisual Heritage as a mechanism to raise general awareness of the need for urgent measures to be taken and to acknowledge the importance of audiovisual documents as an integral part of national identity.

In response to a proposal by the Czech Republic in October 2005, UNESCO’s General Conference approved the proclamation of 27 October as the annual World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. The World Day for Audiovisual Heritage can be a means of building global awareness of the various issues at stake in preserving the audiovisual heritage. In accordance with normal practice, a feasibility study has been commenced to test the objectives, practicalities, costs and expected results of such an annual commemoration.

The date is significant. On 27 October 1980, the General Conference adopted the “Recommendation for the safeguarding and preservation of moving images”, the first international instrument to declare the cultural and historical importance of film and television recordings, and calling for decisive steps to ensure their preservation.

Sound recordings and moving images in any form are vulnerable, and easily discarded or deliberately destroyed. Too much of the world’s 20th century audiovisual heritage is now lost, and much more is slipping beyond recovery because of neglect, natural decay and technological obsolescence. Unless public awareness of the importance of preservation is increased, this trend will continue.

Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO made the following speech to appeal to member countries to celebrate World day for audiovisual Heritage

“In 2006 at its 33rd session the General Conference of UNESCO declared 27 October as World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. This gives us a unique occasion to raise awareness of the importance of sounds and images as a source of history of the last 150 years and of the importance of preserving them and making them accessible to whoever is interested in their content.

UNESCO has mandated the Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA)*, the umbrella organisation of the international non-governmental organisations concerned with the preservation of the audiovisual heritage, to promote the World Day.  This year, the celebration has the overall topic “The Audiovisual Heritage as a Witness of Cultural Diversity” which highlights the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

As CCAAA cannot organise events all over the world to celebrate the World day, it has to rely on its members and the institutions and persons active in the field to take the initiative. This can be done as an appeal, an event of more or less significant dimensions, as commented screenings of moving images, seminars or broadcast programmes, to give but a few examples.  It is important that we reach sections of the population which are not aware of the richness of the audiovisual heritage, especially decision makers and politicians.  Your National or regional UNESCO commission is certainly willing to help you.

Please give us feed back before or after the 27th October on what you have done so that it can serve as an example next year for those who have not yet succeeded in organising some activities.”

It is against this background as well as the National Film, Video and Sound Archive of South Africa’s affiliation as members to International bodies such as FIAF (Federation of International Film Archives), IASA (International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives) and FIAT (Federation for International Television Archives) that we have been trying to celebrate World day for Audiovisual Heritage.

As a member of the aforementioned bodies and the largest audiovisual archive on the continent, we want to contribute to create an awareness for the preservation and safeguarding of our audiovisual heritage.  In the holdings of the NFA we have more than half a million recordings (audio and visual) that are being preserved for posterity.  Many of these recordings are on formats that are running the risk of total obsolescence within the next year or two.