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Your news from overseas may get squeezed in UNESCO rift

By Frederic A. MoritzStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 6, 1984



News agencies and newspapers throughout the world are watching closely to see just how the American decision to withdraw from UNESCO will affect their freedom to report and transmit news with a minimum of government restriction. The result could affect the kind of overseas news Americans receive from newspaper, television, and radio reports.

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At issue is how the US decision will affect the still-theoretical concept that has been the center of sometimes heated debate within the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The controversial concept is the New World Information Order (NWIO).

Concern over NWIO is one reason US spokesmen gave last week for the decision to withdraw from UNESCO by the end of 1984. Other reasons given by State Department spokesman Alan Romberg include ''politicization of virtually every issue it deals with,'' and hostility toward the ''basic institutions of a free society,'' such as a free market and a free press, and ''unrestrained budgetary expansion.''

UNESCO Director-General Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow has expressed some of the reasoning behind the NWIO campaign by noting that largely Western media institutions dominating international news flow too often give ''special prominence to events for their shock value - to news that is too often likely to rouse the public's interest through surprise. . . . or even scandal. . . . They measure success and failure by their own criteria, without regard to the histories of the peoples concerned.''

Critics of NWIO hope the US withdrawal will shock UNESCO members and the Director-General M'Bow into tempering NWIO calls for such things as licensing of journalists and government regulation to ensure ''balanced coverage.'' The possibility that the US might reconsider its decision before the end of this year, they say, might encourage moderation within UNESCO.

But Harold W. Andersen, president of the World Press Freedom Committee, argues there is a strong possibility that the pro-NWIO movement could pick up steam without the US present to act as opposition. From this point of view, the US may have undermined other UNESCO members such as Britain and West Germany, which have worked to moderate NWIO.

So far the NWIO consists of little more than theoretical debates and motions at UNESCO gatherings. The major thrust of these sessions has been to spotlight allegations that Western media sensationalize and distort third world events. Proponents of NWIO also assert that Western-dominated international news agencies such as the Associated Press and Reuters are unable to provide third world newspapers with news relevant to third world needs.

Some Western press executives and journalists have been sympathetic to the NWIO call for more balanced coverage of the third world. The tendency of newspapers (whether in East or West, developed or undeveloped countries) to concentrate on ''negative'' news of coups, wars, hurricanes, or of ''exotic'' customs that seem quaint to home readers is widely acknowledged.