Third-world journalists advocate more press freedom in their own countries

Before the Reagan administration makes its decision on whether to suspend support for UNESCO, it should take a close look at third-world journalists meeting here in India.

The journalists at this meeting - most of them from nations that call themselves nonaligned - pressed vigorously for expanding press freedom in their countries. Yet the US government is considering a suspension of aid to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in part because UNESCO is the organization through which some third-world countries are trying to establish a ''new world information order.''

The US and some other Western governments think such a new world information and communications order calls for controls on press freedoms. But the mood and speeches here by supporters of that new order seemed far removed from that Western belief.

What distinguishes the Delhi conference from others since the issue of a new world information order was raised a decade ago is that journalists here willingly criticized the impediments to balanced reporting in addition to criticizing the Western press.

Many of those meeting here voiced opposition to the concept of state control and licensing of journalists - controls that many supported a decade ago. More democratic freedoms, not fewer, were stressed as an essential condition for achieving a more balanced flow of information.

This was the message, too, in the opening address delivered by India's prime minister, the current chairperson of the nonaligned movement.

It was not just the news media of the West, Indira Gandhi said, that failed to publish much about developing countries. Media in developing countries also need to do a better job of reporting. Mrs. Gandhi cited a survey by India's Press Council, which found that only 2 percent of newspaper space in the country is devoted to social issues.

UNESCO's director-general, Dr. Ahmadou-Mahtar M'Bow, adopted a more encouraging tone than in some of his speeches. ''After provoking sharp and sometimes bitter polemics for almost a decade,'' he said, ''the debate on a new world information and communication order appears at long last to be entering a more serene and constructive phase,'' he said.

So far from wishing to advocate more control and uniformity in the media, he emphasized that ''what is at stake, in plain words, is to affirm pluralism at the global level as well as at the level of every human community.''

What the Delhi conference appears to have demonstrated is the defeat of authoritarians who promote state-controlled media and the licensing of foreign correspondents.

The most vociferous voices speaking up for a free press were journalists from India and Nigeria - two third-world countries with perhaps the most outspoken press. But they were not alone. Mushahid Hussain, the editor of the lively Pakistani paper, the Moslem, spoke out forcefully.

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