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Voice of the Red Cross: a half-century of radio in support of humanitarian work

26-10-2010 News Release

Geneva (ICRC) – On the occasion of UNESCO's World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, 27 October, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is unveiling a unique collection of radio archives and other sound recordings that tell the story of a half-century of humanitarian work, from the Second World War to the 1990s.

"Besides providing a historical record, this sound archive offers a wealth of information about the development of the ICRC's communication activities," said Florence Zurcher, in charge of the archive.

When the ICRC was invited to broadcast its messages on radio programmes of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation during the Second World War, it put this unique tool to good use by transmitting across Europe the names of released prisoners of war, making it easier for them to be repatriated.

In 1948 a radio frequency was assigned to the ICRC for its exclusive use. "It is unusual for an organization like the ICRC to be assigned such a frequency," said Ms Zurcher. "Putting the ICRC on the same level, so to speak, as sovereign States is a way of acknowledging the importance of its activities."

After the post-war period, the ICRC gradually began to use radio waves to aim its message at a broader audience and make itself better known. At the end of the 1960s, the Red Cross Broadcasting Service was born. On various programmes, such as those featuring discussions with ICRC delegates or presentations of international humanitarian law, people who played a part in shaping the history of the ICRC after the war took turns in the organization's radio studio for the next 30 years. "Although some of the voices may now sound old-fashioned, they nevertheless have the magical ability to instantly take us back into the ICRC's past," said Ms Zurcher.

ICRC sound recordings became a way of keeping a record of noteworthy events – a valuable resource that complements the organization's written, cinematographic and photographic archives. A five-year preservation project has been launched in cooperation with the Swiss National Sound Archive with support from Memoriav, an association founded to preserve Switzerland’s audiovisual cultural heritage, to enable research workers and other interested persons to consult the archive in digital format.

For further information, please contact:
Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18