THE COMMA is the key to the headline above. Without it, you could get the idea -- the familiar, ancient idea -- that UNESCO was under attack and its friends needed to rally around. But the problem is different. The organization, currently meeting in Belgrade, is trying to tinker with the press again. It will be working on the so-called McBride Report prepared by its International Commission for the Study of Communications Problems. Some supported UNESCO's setting up of this commission as a way of sidetracking a dogged Third World and communist effort to make UNESCO a kind of arbiter of the international media. Others supported the commission as a way of advancing the effort. Its report, according to the free-press-minded International Press Institute, reflects both points of view but will be used to Belgrade chiefly to advance the argument for a controlled press.

One group of American journalists has ignored UNESCO's media meddling, either hoping it will go away or feeling it won't matter anyway. But it's not going away, and it's helping legitimize the press control and thought control that pass for communications in all too many places. A second group of American journalists has dutifully participated in UNESCO's deliberations, figuring to fight from within. They have made some useful contributions, but the result of their participation seems to have been mostly to acknowledge the authority of UNESCO to make studies, weigh guidelines and otherwise radiate its wisdom upon the international media. We would include ourselves in a third group that rejects entirely not only the restraints UNESCO wishes to place on the media (often, of course, in the guise of protections) but also the very authority of UNESCO to labor in this field.

The E in UNESCO is for education, the S for science and the C for culture. There is reason to suspect that the secretariat and many members of this organization would like, in effect, to add an I for information and another C for communications. UNESCICO? Why?