A United Nations meeting here today formally received a controversial report on world information problems and was asked to decide how to follow it up.
In a speech to the 21st general conference of the U.N. Eductional, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Director-General Amadou M'Bow described the report as the most extensive international study ever made of communications and their problems.
UNESCO will discuss a broad array of topics during its five-week meeting,j which opened Tuesday, but the most worrisome to the Uited States and many Western European members are proposals that would make UNESCO a kind of arbiter over communications media in developing countries.
M'Bow, from Senegal, echoes Third World complaints that the developing nations get their news from Western-controlled press agencies. He has said that UNESCO is not simply an international artistic, technical, or scientific body, but the "moral conscience of the world."
The press issue is not expected to be formally debated until Oct. 10. But well before then, sources here say, maneuvering will take place on the issue.
It will be up to M'Bow ultimately to decide just how fractious the debate will be. There is some question how hard he will push proposals that would meet all aims of the Third World and Soviet block, which are a majority here.
The 292-page document, drafted by an international commisssion headed by former Irish foreign minister Sean MacBride, was published last February.
It attacked censorship, defended journalists' rights to free access to news source, and called for effective legal measures to ensure that transnational organizations, such as international news agencies, conformed to national laws and development policies.
M'Bow told 2,400 delegates from most of UNESCO's 152 member states that secretariat would ensure the report was widely published, while continuing to analyze its contents and recommendations.
"It will be for the general conference to lay down the approaches necessary for continuing the analysis started by the commission, as well as for following up the recommendations most specifically addressed to UNESCO, he said.
At a meeting in Paris last April, UNESCO decided to set up a group called the International Program for the Development of Communication. Its purpose and financing remain to be settled, but one function would be to train journalists of developing countries.
At best, Westerners say, the organization could provide a mechanism for improving the press and broadcasting media in those countries.
But at worst, they say, it could also be used as an instrument to control the press -- Western or Third World -- training journalists to accept government-controlled media.
M'Bow today described the program as eminently desirable. He asked for $1.5 million to set up an administrative secretariat, but officials have said much more would be needed to operate it effectively.
Faced with resistance from Western countries to extra spending, M'Bow agreed that the money should come out of UNESCO's draft budget for the next three years of $625 million.
The communications issue has occupied UNESCO for nearly a decade. Some Third World delegates -- particularly those from African countries -- have complained that news of their nations was transmitted to the outside world by Western press agencies whose reporters tended to be biased against them.
Over the years these delegations have called for locally controlled press agencies. Western news executives admit to certain failings in their Third World reporting of developing countries, in particular to an overconcentration on the inability of some Third World governments to measure up to aspirations that came with independence.
But these same Western editors and journalists fear that Third World governments might use Western media failings as an excuse to get rid of the international news media such as the Associated Press, United Press International, and Reuter, the British agency. In their place these governments would install government-controlled press agencies like those in most totalitarian countries, the Western delegates fear.
These spokesmen for the Western style of reporting have some questions. As one executive put it here Tuesday.
"Would an African country really believe that it was getting a reasonably accurate account of a coup d'etat or a crisis in an Asian country, say Pakistan, if the only source was the Pakistan official news agency here? And the same would go for readers in Pakistan about such an event in a country like Ghana."
One Western delegate, who had concentrated on the media issue of UNESCO, said: "The fact is that most Third World countries involved in the debates are not democracies. Further, their view of the aims of UNESCO -- to promote peace and development -- translates basically into support of the government's policy, right or wrong."
Among the 80 recommendations by MacBride's committee was one that hournalists be protected from harassment by governments.
On the surface, this might seem a positive step, but some Western editors have objected on the grounds that:
Visiting journalists should not have any higher or lower status than any other citizen in a foreign country.
They should no have to be issued cards by UNESCO to identify them as valid reporters.If UNESCO can issue cards to journalists, UNESCO can revoke the cards as well, according to this argument.
"There could be fireworks here," one U.S. official said, "or it could be papered over if M'Bow wants it that way -- but whatever happens, the issue of the nature of a free or controlled press will remain a running issue one way or another inside UNESCO for a long time to come."