WITH APOLOGIES for tardiness, we come forward today in protest against the Carter adminstration's misguided effort to close down the Rhodesian Information Office in Washington.The effort was undertaken to put pressure on the white-minority government of Ian Smith. But it is an affront to the American belief in the free international flow of information and to the whole idea of fairness, and it conveys to the Third World that the United States shares its conviction that information is properly the servant of politics.

The issue arose late in May when the United States joined a Security Council resolution closing the window by which Rhodesia funds its Washington office (and lesser ones in France and Australia). On Capitol Hill and elsewhere, among critics of Ian Smith as well as among his sympathizers, a clamor arose, but the State Department stuck to its guns. Sens. Clifford Case (R-N.J.) and Dick Clark (D-Iowa) then introduced a resolution saying that "any foreign country should be allowed to maintain an information office in the United States." So Mr. Carter, savvy in tactic if not sound in principle, backed off and decided to suspend putting the U.N. resolution into effect.

Important as is the issue of information, there may be more at stake. The United States is trying to make Mr. Smith form a new democratic government with the black majority of Zimbabwe. But it maintains contact with him only through occasional visits to Salisbury by the American ambassador to Zambia. Such calculated detachment is appreciated by the other African states, but does it serve the process of diplomatic communication? Just as it is only fair to let the Rhodesian government, and its rivals, offer their views to the American public, so it could be useful to keep the (professionally staffed) Information Office here open and available for diplomatic exchanges.