Cultural diversity

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Message from the UNESCO director general on World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

In a message issued for World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, UNESCO director general Koïchiro Matsuura, noted that “audiovisual records—which is to say moving images and recorded sound—provide us with valuable entries into the past. They draw us into the collective dramas of our recent history, they allow us to experience, firsthand, how an art was practiced, they show us people going about their business in settings that may have changed vastly, and indeed going about business that may have changed just as much. They tell us a great deal about ourselves and others, where we have been, and what makes us what we are.”

The director general recalled that last year at the 33rd session of UNESCO's general conference, the Member States decided to declare October 27 World Day for Audiovisual Archives, noting that this heritage was testimony “to the economic, political, and social development, the evolution of education, scientific knowledge, and diversity of cultures of different nations and communities, as well as to the evolution of nature and the universe.” The drafters of this resolution, noted Mr. Matsuura, “were fully aware that these archives are extraordinarily fragile, and that the efforts to preserve them can be extremely costly, and not easily within the means of many countries.”

Developing the theme of fragility, the director general asserted that floods, fires, storms, and earthquakes can erase this heritage overnight. War, theft, and vandalism—or basic human negligence—have destroyed many collections and continue to do so. Humidity, heat, dust, and salt-laden atmospheres also play their part, and losses are caused by technical obsolescence as well as physical decay affecting not only old images and sound recordings, but also “new” digital media.

The UNESCO director general went on to note that “safeguarding audiovisual heritage is a very complex process requiring a range of legal, institutional, technical, and financial solutions. Not taking action will result in the loss of entire chapters of this heritage in less than ten years and lead to the irreparable impoverishment of human memory, culture, and identity.”

On the first-ever World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, Mr. Matsuura called upon governments, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector “to give audiovisual heritage the recognition it deserves, and more than that, the resources so essential to its preservation.” “Only by doing so will we be able to ensure that future generations can enjoy the legacy that is still within our grasp,” he concluded.

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