Beirut’s Bid: UNESCO Heritage Status for Télé-Liban Archives


Lebanon plans to request registration in 2024 as UNESCO documentary heritage of the archives of Télé-Liban, a public channel which embodies the collective memory of the country and is one of the oldest in the Arab world.

“We are seeking to record the archives of Télé-Liban, because it is the first television in the Arab world,” Information Minister Ziad Makari told AFP.

“We have the oldest visual and sound archives in the Arab world,” he added.

The channel experienced a golden age in the 1960s and 1970s, before becoming witness to the sectarian divisions that tore the country apart during the civil war (1975-1990).

The star hosts of the channel’s entertainment programs remain anchored in the memory of Lebanese people nostalgic for a bygone era.

If Télé-Liban was launched in 1959, it has “video tapes dating from the Second World War and the 1940s”, underlined Mr. Makari.

UNESCO has launched a call for applications for its International Memory of the World Register, which lists elements of documentary heritage of global and historical importance, with a deadline of January 31, 2024.

Created in 1992, this register aims to prevent the irrevocable loss of documentary heritage and to make it more accessible to the general public, according to the website of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

To be included on the list, the archives must have “cultural and historical value”, explained Mr. Makari.

Those of Télé-Liban include more than 50,000 hours of soundtracks, including interviews, information, but also various concerts by artists from across the Arab world, from the diva Oum Kalthoum to Dalida in the 1970s.

“National treasure”

According to Zaven Kouyoumdjian, presenter and author of two books on television, “Télé-Liban was an attempt to bring the Arab world into modernity.”

The channel has created “the collective memory of the country” as well as a “myth uniting all Lebanese”. The Télé-Liban archives are “a national treasure”, he added.

“We preserve the archives with care and with the utmost seriousness,” assures Mr. Makari, referring in particular to cooperation with the National Audiovisual Institute (INA) in France and the Quai d’Orsay.

After World War I, Lebanon was placed under French mandate in 1920 and remained there until 1943, the year of its independence.

The Lebanese Ministry of Information, which launched the process of digitizing its archives in 2010, will begin preparing the registration file in January, with technical assistance from Unesco, according to Mr. Makari.

The inclusion of these archives on the UNESCO list would place “Lebanon’s media heritage on the world map”, he said.

Last May, UNESCO announced the registration of 64 documentary collections on its International Memory of the World Register, bringing the total number of collections registered to 494.

The commemorative steles of Nahr el-Kalb, located 15 kilometers north of Beirut, and the Phoenician alphabet were inscribed there in 2005.

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