UN's 'Agenda': using television as a global problem solver

The second phase of one of the most far-reaching multinational television series ever attempted is almost ready to roll - and, once again, the United States is not a part of it.

In a few weeks, the producers of ''Agenda for a Small Planet, Phase II'' will be gathering in the UN's New York headquarters to show the first draft of their documentaries. (These documentaries have been produced under the aegis of the Radio and Visual Services of the United Nations Department of Public Information in cooperation with the Canadian International Development Agency and the Worldview International Foundation.) From Sept. 4 through 7 these producers - from across the globe - will screen ''work prints'' of their films for series coordinator Jean Tetrault and executive producer Peter Hollander.

''Agenda for a Small Planet, Phase II,'' like ''Agenda I'' - which last year aired for 100 million viewers around the world (but not in the US) - is produced by a consortium of nations aiming to make programs that take a global view of the world's most pressing problems. It is an ambitious and innovative attempt at electronic problem solving, with the stated goal of remaining free from political and ideological controversies.

Twenty-five countries have combined forces in ''Agenda II'' to produce nine television documentaries about the world's North-South problems. In many cases, developed nations are offering technical and financial aid to the developing nations as they work together to produce these films.

''Agenda I'' involved a 10-nation consortium, including the US. But the US participant, KQED (San Francisco), dropped out for financial reasons, and thus only nine nations produced films. They were Canada, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Japan, Finland, New Zealand, West Germany, and Sweden.

Since only the countries that participated had the right to show the series, none of the films were ever shown in the US. According to series coordinator Tetrault, it would probably be possible to arrange showing in the US now if, for instance, PBS made arrangements with the consortium.

''Agenda II'' consortium members, made up mainly of industrial countries cooperating with third-world countries, are Canada/Brazil; Finland-Norway/Nepal; New Zealand-Australia/Malaysia; Japan/Bangladesh; West Germany/Sri Lanka; Sweden/Tunisia; France/Madagascar; Italy/India; and Belgium/Andes Group (Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador).

Some of the topics covered in the ''Agenda II'' documentaries are these: the impact of tourism on third-world countries (Sri Lanka), how women are affected by development (Tunisia), the land tenure issue (Brazil), unity in Latin America (the Andean Group), and the brain drain (India).

Mr. Tetrault, in an interview, lists the three main objectives of this second ''Agenda'':

1. The sensitization of the North to the development problems of the South.

2. Linking those problems to the international system.

3. Pinpointing areas where the international community needs to act.

He explains that the language problem has been overcome to a large extent by concentrating as much as possible on the visuals, with interviews kept to a minimum. ''One thing I must point out,'' Mr. Tetrault told me proudly, ''none of the films is complacent. They are intended to criticize and provoke.''

Mr. Tetrault is disappointed that the US is not participating in ''Agenda II.'' He explained that many of the countries that are participating can use public funds to pay for their films. In the US, it was found that the large corporations are reluctant to subsidize documentaries dealing with what many consider to be ''controversial'' topics. Government funding, from an organization such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is simply not available for such projects.

''Agenda for a Small Planet, Phase III'' is already in the planning stage, although ''Phase II'' will probably not start airing in the consortium countries until the end of 1984.

''Phase III'' will concentrate on disarmament and world peace in honor of the International Year of Peace, which starts in January 1986,'' Mr. Tetrault says. ''We hope it will involve 26 countries from all over, North, East, South, and West, developed and developing.''

Marcel Martin, director of Radio and Visual Services for the UN, told the Monitor: ''These are important steps in the utilization of television as a positive and constructive force in international goodwill and problem solving. The documentaries bring together writers and filmmakers from different countries , all trying to look at problems from the global point of view.''

But unless some rapid and drastic action is taken by private American foundations, organizations interested in international affairs, or perhaps official Washington, chances are that American television audiences will be frozen out of ''Agenda for a Small Planet, III'' just as they appear to have been frozen out of ''Agenda I'' and now ''Agenda II.''

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