THERE IS some rare good news in the battle over international censorship. Free-press forces are starting to organize systematically to fight the Communist and Third World elements that have been working for years in UNESCO to gain international sanction for state control of the press. Through most of this time the free-press people have been in something of a defensive crouch, putting up an often one-handed defense against a regular and well-planned barrage of resolutions coming from the other side.
At Talloires in Franch recently, news figures from 20 countries gathered under the aegis of the private American-organized World Press Freedom Committee and agreed on a declaration that independent news organizations everywhere are invited to join. A third of those countries, including Nigeria, Mexico and Malaysia, were of the Third World -- a spread reflecting the fact that press freedom is not exclusively a Western concern. Together they enunciated the principles of a free press, including "the importance of advertising as a consumer service and in providing financial support for a strong and self-sustaining press," and denounced the various restrictions, codes, rules, licensing provisions and "protections" that UNESCO keeps trying to impose. UNESCO was urged to deal instead with practical problems: "improving technological progress, increasing professional interchanges and equipment transfers, reducing communication tariffs, producing cheaper newsprint and eliminating other barriers to the development of news media capabilities."
The sponsors of Talloires intend that with this positive statement and with continued tactical planning, the free-press side can finally take the offensive in the forums where the battle is waged. Even now, for instance, UNESCO's indefatigable secretariat is whipping up a fresh batch of state-control proposals for presentation to its next general conference. American media people are eager to ensure that official American participation in UNESCO debates is vigorous and effective. Vice President Bush's call this week for UNESCO to get out of the censorship business was a good harbinger in this regard.
UNESCO plays the consensus game, treating every issue as suitable for international bargaining. But UNESCO is an organization dedicated, in its charter, to the "free flow" of information and ideas. This is not a commodity or an interest to be cut up in pieces, negotiated and shared around. The very thought of considering a free press negotiable is repugnant. The "Declaration of Talloires" can become the first line of international defense.