Wrong tactic on UNESCO

Concern in the US Congress about the efforts of some countries to regulate the operation of the world press is understandable. But a move now afoot to cut off United States funding of UNESCO if that organization takes steps to curb the flow of news and information is not the best way to fight the battle for press freedom. It would simply fuel an atmosphere of confrontation and complicate the work of US diplomacy.

The fact is that the Western nations, after years of drift, have finally become sensitized to the potential dangers of what is called a "new world information order" -- a concept being pushed in UNESCO by the Soviet bloc as well as certain third-world countries. The Westerners have gone on the offensive. They have managed to reduce the level of emotional rhetoric at UNESCO sessions and to center the discussions on the genuine and legitimate concerns of the developing nations. At the last conference in Belgrade, for example, a mechanism was established to foster and coordinate Western aid for communications facilities in the third world. It is such practical measures which have usefully reduced the political temperatures at UNESCO.

However, the progress being made in winning the confidence of moderate developing nations could be lost if the Congress passes a bill threatening sanctions against the international agency. The idea of a "new world information order" is still in the state of evolving. Surely it is better for the US to be seen vigorously contributing to the debate -- and trying to steer it in constructive channels -- than prematurely waving a warning that offends the developing countries and ties its own delegation's hands.

The better course would be a bipartisan "sense of Congress" resolution expressing opposition to any UNESCO efforts to curtail press freedom. Such a measure, also under consideration, would effectively make known the lawmakers' concern without needlessly inflaming political passions.

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