THAT WAS a remarkable statement that Akhtar Mohammed Paktiawal, the delegate from Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, made at the UNESCO conference in Belgrade the other day. The conference was humming along normally, with assorted Third World (and Communist) delegates gnawing away at their UNESCO charter commitment to the free flow of information, when Mr. Paktiawal took the floor for what was expected to be a routine speech in the Soviet mold. He not only denounced the Soviet invasion of his country. He denounced the thrust of much of the proceedings, which, he said, would assure the right of communication only to governments, not individuals. "In the general conference they talk about free flow of information," he said, "but who is taking our voice to other people?"
For his personal courage, the delegates hailed Mr. Paktiawal -- and then went on to ignore his message. The unhappy fact is that Third World idiologues have "discovered" international communications as an intellectual pasture land. They have made common cause with Third World politicians eager to exploit upon UNESCO as a convenient forum. It's not for these ideologues to stop with the quite reasonable idea that Third World media operators need training, technical assistance and professional stature, or the no less reasonable idea that the Third World does have a legitimate interest in how it is described and informed. No, the ideological approach is to construct a world information "order" in which technological and political questions are submitted to the high priests of radical orthodoxy. Too many politicians, tempted by short-term convenience, are ready to go along. The Soviet Union enjoys and exploits the affair where it can.
At Belgrade, a first-class American delegation managed to take the sting out of the "McBride Commission resolution," the Third World chosen communications vehicle of the last several years. Some success was achieved in channeling communications issues into a new "clearinghouse" intended to focus on specific communications-development programs. At the same conference, however, new proposals bearing on "protecting" (licensing) journalists, defining "responsible" (offically approved) journalism and assisting PLO propaganda were launched. Most of the American delegates, including private citizens as well as officials, take the view that continued vigorous engagement in UNESCO deliberations is the only way to reduce the damage. They're right, but it's a gigantic task.