The farthest-reaching multinational television series ever attempted -- ``Agenda for a Small Planet -- Phase 3,'' produced by the United Nations -- was previewed here recently, as representatives of 24 countries met to show each other the documentaries made for the series. The topic, peace and disarmament, was chosen to mark the ``International Year of Peace,'' as the United Nations has designated 1986. The films will begin airing on television stations around the world in February. Project coordinator Jean Tetrault estimates the new films, together with two earlier series of the same name, will reach more than 1 billion people this year. The United States is taking part for the first time.
The documentaries will be available to the 24 nations involved in the consortium, and the 50 least-developed countries on the UN rolls will also have free access to the films. It is expected that many of the countries will show all 24 of them, but they are not required to do so. The only requirement is that they consult with the filmmakers before making any cuts from the finished versions.
Educational institutions will probably be able to rent any of the films through the UN for a nominal sum. Mr. Tetrault estimates that the 24 productions represent an expenditure of around $3 million, with a cost to the UN of around $500,000 for distribution and coordination.
Negotiations are now under way to air either a selection from the series of 24 films or just the US contribution on WNYC, a PBS station in New York City, or on Ted Turner's Cable News Network or his Atlanta-based cable station, WTBS.
The US film -- ``Made in the U.S.A.,'' produced by filmmaker Sarah Conover for Internews -- was seen here in an unfinished version. It stressed the influence of American technical advances on the rest of the world -- for good or ill. According to Ms. Conover, a yet-to-be-added segment will contain interviews, mainly with individual Americans concerned about nuclear weapons and war.
The Soviet contribution, ``The Peaceful Uses of Outer Space,'' made a case for banning the Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Guergy Zoubkov, the Soviet television jounalist who was here to present the film, stressed that both Soviet and American space scientists have banded together to promote disarmament.
The quality of the films varies greatly. In many of the countries represented, television is state controlled, and thus the films reflect an official point of view.
Mr. Tetrault concedes that mixing the state products with the documentaries made by independent filmmakers could be misleading. ``Maybe, in a way, we are mixing apples and oranges,'' he says. ``But it is very important to know what governments as well as what individuals think. After all, if we can get 24 different viewpoints about peace, official or otherwise, does it matter if they are from governments or from individuals? In either case, it is encouraging. . . .
``To a certain extent walls separate us. But we are trying to make those walls transparent. If we can succeed in that -- by allowing each country to show its point of view about peace and disarmament through its own culture in its own way -- we will have achieved a lot.''
``Agenda for a Small Planet -- Phase 3'' is produced by Mr. Tetrault under the aegis of the radio and visual services of the UN Department of Public Information. ``Agenda 1'' in 1983 was a series of nine films concerning an assortment of pressing international problems. Last year's ``Agenda 2'' contained contributions from 25 industrial and developing nations and resulted in nine films about the world's North-South problems.
Arthur Unger is the Monitor's television critic.