INA – Can you explain the project to us?
Elissar Naddaf - I started working on this program in December 2019. As the French-speaking media advisor to the Lebanese Minister of Information, I am project manager for the Lebanese side. I work together with Thomas Monteil who is the project manager for the INA part. The “Safeguarding, Digitization and Valorization of Lebanese Media Heritage” project targets four institutions that are under the supervision of the Ministry of Information. First Radio Liban, which broadcasts on two frequencies, 96.2, a French-speaking radio partner of Radio France Internationale (RFI), and 98.5 for the Arabic part. Then the National Information Agency (ANI), the official source of all information in the country. It has almost 120 correspondents in all Lebanese regions. Then the studies and publications department, a department of the Ministry of Information where you can find press reviews, publications, and many very old photos. And finally, Télé Liban, which was founded in 1959. It has a somewhat special status since it has a board of directors, but it is under the supervision of the Ministry of Information. Télé Liban had two channels: Canal 9, which was the French-speaking channel, but the broadcast was stopped during the civil war. And channel 7, Arabic, which is still there.
INA - What are the expectations of the Lebanese Ministry of Information?
E.N - The archives of these four institutions are archives of heritage and national value. They testify the golden age of the country, of Télé Liban, Radio Liban and the National Agency. These are valuable archives that were neglected during the civil war and in the post-war period because they were obviously not the priority of the Lebanese state. The priority was rather the economy, safety. These archives bear witness to the atrocities of the war. Some of these archives were scattered all over the place and we had trouble finding them. Another part was looted. You know, these documents were for months or even years in buildings that were destroyed by war. These are very valuable archives. So, we wanted to save them at all costs. There have been several attempts in the past with the ministry, with former ministers, to safeguard these archives, including the part that suffered from vinegar syndrome. But we were still faced with funding problems.
INA - What are the expected results?
E.N – We must digitize and promote these archives. The purpose of this project is essentially cultural and scientific. They must be made available to researchers, students, journalists, and even to all Lebanese. The transmission of these archives from one generation to another is very important to us.
INA - The project is established in two phases: an analysis and audit phase, and a training and assistance phase. What does INA's expertise in terms of archive policy bring you?
E.N – This is a central question. The audits revealed that we did not really have an archiving policy. This is a shortcoming for these institutions because the strategies for managing archives are variable. We urgently needed an inventory, a mapping of the collections, a plan for the physical and digital preservation of the archives, and of course, a development project. All our archivists, who are few, have been working tirelessly for years without even having had any training. They acquired knowledge gradually. This must therefore be structured in a broad archiving policy. To do this, we have of course mobilized, sensitized, and encouraged the directors of the various institutions.
INA - What relationship do Lebanese youth have with this audio-visual heritage?
E.N - Young Lebanese are very attached to this heritage. Particularly artists, intellectuals, and scholars. For example, we were recently contacted by a Lebanese musicologist and baritone who was researching Wadia Sabra, the composer of the national anthem and founder of the Conservatoire. Télé Liban was able to provide archives on Wadia Sabra to help move forward in this research, which will obviously serve Lebanese culture and heritage. We are preserving the memory of Lebanon and that is very important to us. The culture, heritage, and everything that we have in the memory of this country remains of great importance. Despite everything.
INA – INA is also a partner of the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts in which it trains students in master production.
E.N - They are the best by the way. We have the wish to collaborate with the Academy and other universities as well. Not only to send them the archives, but also to involve them in the project, so that they themselves feel like partners. This is how we know the value of these archives. I would also like to really thank INA for this opportunity, to thank all the INA teams, without exception and without naming them, because they really do an extraordinary job. I am very moved and very touched by their commitment and their interest in these archives. When you see their love for these archives, it looks like they are Lebanese like us. I also thank the French Embassy and the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. After the explosion of August 4, 2020, humanitarian assistance took over any other consideration in Lebanon. France nevertheless continued to help us and support the project. Finally, we must salute the commitment of the teams of the four institutions, their directors, and the heads of the ministry. They work in very difficult conditions, sometimes without electricity. It is therefore necessary to underline their passion for this project.