An unprecedented use of U.S. government-sponsored television in support of American foreign policy will take place Sunday when a $500,000 spectacular to show support for the people of Poland will be beamed by satellite to countries around the world.
The 90-minute telecast, paid for and produced by the U.S. International Communication Agency, is called "Let Poland be Poland--a Day of Solidarity with the Polish People."
The program will include statements by President Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and 10 other world leaders. It will also include appearances by Frank Sinatra, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Glenda Jackson, Orson Welles, Polish cultural figures, Polish ambassadors who have defected to the United States and films of pro-Solidarity rallies that are scheduled this weekend at 16 cities here and abroad.
The forthcoming broadcast, which is primarily the creation of ICA Director Charles Z. Wick, has stirred considerable public controversy abroad and private misgivings here among some U.S. officials, including some within Wick's ICA domain.
The concern here is that the program, if it comes off as heavily Hollywood and propagandistic, could prove to be a considerable embarrassment for the United States abroad. But some of those who are jittery add that they have no idea how the program is being put together and that it could wind up being an effective and tastefully done expression of concern.
But some reports from overseas yesterday were openly hostile. Denis Healey, a leader of Britain's opposition Labor Party, said the program "will be intensely embarrassing to everyone outside the United States. I think it is absolutely wrong to treat the Polish tragedy as Hollywood razzmatazz." An unidentified aide to French President Francois Mitterrand was quoted by the Reuter news agency as saying, "It is pure show business and demeans the whole idea of showing solidarity with the Polish people."
Surveys by United Press International and Reuter showed little advance support from European TV networks. Britain's commercial network had decided not to use it. But many other national networks, including the British Broadcasting Company, said they will make a decision after first screening the program or use excerpts on news programs.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Wick said the harsh comments from abroad "are most unfortunate" because ICA has proceeded "carefully and in the utmost good faith" to come up with "one vehicle to express an amplification of the moral outrage at the suppression of freedom of the Polish people, which is a threat to freedom everywhere. We are trying to be a catalytic agent to wrap-up" expressions of concern by church and labor groups and world leaders everywhere pro-Solidarity rallies are scheduled next weekend.
The idea that this will be "some song and dance" show is wrong, Wick says. "It is a very serious articulation of the background of freedom. To remain passive is a bummer," he adds.
Wick says a dozen countries in the Far East and some two dozen in South America have asked for the program. According to Wick, the audio portion will also be broadcast around the world, including Communist Eastern Europe, in a score of languages by the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. RFE/RL are independent of ICA and there is known to have been some private grumbling in these organizations about Wick's assertiveness with respect to their role. Asked if they were ordered to do the broadcasts, Wick said, "Not at all. Their job is to further the cause of freedom."
The program will be made available in the United States by the Public Broadcasting Service which, under the 1978 telecommunications act, is required to offer access to its satellite for other organizations when time is available. PBS will provide the program to its 297 stations and it is up to each station to decide whether to air the program. The PBS satellite time was purchased for ICA by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Under U.S. law, an ICA production cannot be shown in this country without congressional approval. On Tuesday, the two congressional committees involved voted for such a waiver. The full House approved it yesterday and the Senate is expected to give its approval today.
Poland's military rulers have sharply denounced the forthcoming program as "propaganda aggression" that violates "generally approved and practiced principles of international coexistence."