U.N. officials today defended on ongoing three-year public relations project under which they have paid $432,000 to 15 newspapers around the world for publishing special supplements that promote the views of the U.N.'s Third World majority.

Yasushi Akashi, the U.N.'s undersecretary for public information, told a press conference here that he sees nothing unethical in the arrangement. He said both he and the newspapers have been "generally satisfied by the impact" of the quarterly supplements, which "helped to correct the current imbalance in the flow of information" about the economic differences dividing rich and poor nations.

Akashi, who is Japanese, said he was trying to recruit British and American publications to join the current participants but "these seem to be more reticent."

The 15 subsidized papers include the prestigious Asahi Shimbun of Tokyo and Le Monde of Paris, each of which got $48,000 as "partial reimbursement" for the cost of the newsprint involved, he said.

Akashi met with the press after The New York Times published details of the operation this morning. He conceded that "perhaps" it would be better in the future to cite the source of the funding in the supplements, and make clear to readers that some articles are written by U.N. staff members.

An original contribution of $1.25 million from the Japanese Shipbuilding Foundation, headed by conservative businessman Ryoichi Sasakawa, has run out. The newspapers got paid only during the first year of the project.

Each printed supplement concentrated on such single issues as education, refugees or the "new international economic order"--the Third World drive to alter the global balance of economic power. A 16th newspaper, Jornal do Brasil, also published them but refused U.N. funds.

Other papers that accepted payments were, El Moudjahid, Algiers; El Paris, Madrid; La Stampa, Turin; Politika, Belgrade; Excelsior, Mexico City; Indian Express, New Delhi; Kayhan Newspapers, Tehran; Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan; Le Soleil, Dakar, Senegal; Magyar Nemzet, Budapest; Zycie Warszawy, Warsaw; Frankfurter Rundschau, Frankfurt, and Die Presse of Vienna.