Plea to save historic film footage made at Dubai conference

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Hundreds of thousands of hours of historic film footage is at danger of being lost unless urgent action is taken, the head of an industry association for media archivists said today.

Jan Müller, president of the International Federation of Television Archives (FIAT/IFTA), said urgent action is required to preserve the “cultural heritage” recorded in early TV and film footage.

“There are hundreds of thousands of hours of endangered material, at least,” Müller told Al Arabiya News.

“There a big film collections, and big video collections from the early years of television – the 70s, 80s and even the 90s,” he added.

Müller was speaking during FIAT/IFTA’s World Conference, which is hosted by the Al Arabiya News Channel and runs until Monday.

Delegates discussed how to digitize old media material, with Müller saying there was an “urgency” to preserve it.

“Digitization costs a lot of money,” he said. “It’s time consuming and a lot of money and resources are involved. The returns are more from a social point of view: You need to keep your cultural heritage… You need to keep it for the future.”

The event coincides with UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, which takes place tomorrow and is dedicated to the safeguarding and preservation of moving images.

Müller said an announcement is due over the preservation of some tape recordings made during the trial of Nelson Mandela in the 1960s.

“We will announce that we will save some endangered collections, among which is a very interesting collection of audio tapes of Mandela’s trial in South Africa. It’s interesting material, and it will be digitized and preserved for the future,” he said.

Various media companies, include some from the Middle East, addressed the conference in Dubai to discuss how they preserve audio-visual records.

Abdulrahman al-Hazaa, president of the Saudi Broadcasting Corporation, made a plea for media companies to keep up-to-date archives and preserve older material.

“Please save the past. Do it today, and use it in the future,” he told the conference. Al-Hazaa added that Saudi TV has worked to preserve thousands of hours of media footage.

Nabil Khatib, executive editor the Al Arabiya News Channel, said archivists are “the guardians of the memory of modern history”. He added that archive material makes up around 30 percent of the footage used on Al Arabiya.

Sam Barnett, chief executive of MBC Group, gave the welcoming speech at the conference, focusing on broader trends in the Middle East media market. Al Arabiya News is part of MBC Group.

Barnett said the Middle East market has “fundamental strength” – but said advertising revenues are still much lower on a per-capita basis.

“We’re perhaps one-third or one-quarter of where we should be. The good news is that we still have a growth story, so advertising can continue to grow. The bad news is we have less money right now,” he said.