WASHINGTON — The U.S. Information Agency's handling of plans for a live international telecast Monday, featuring U.S. and foreign film stars and producers, angered those involved, embarrassed U.S. diplomats and resulted in a British complaint to the American Embassy in London.
The one-hour program, which was fed by satellite from USIA television studios to several European nations, was scheduled months ago in conjunction with the American Film Institute's international film festival, which began in Washington over the weekend.
AFI had made plans to fly actor Donald Sutherland from Hong Kong to Washington to appear on the USIA Worldnet broadcast with AFI Chairman George Stevens Jr., British producer Jacky Staoller, Irish director Pat Murphy and Dutch actress Renee Soutendijk.
In addition, the British Council, which promotes that country's cultural exchange programs, had invited what one British official described as "a remarkable group of people from all ranges of the British film industry" to simultaneously participate in the program at the U.S. Embassy in London.
But Thursday, the British Embassy in Washington received a message from the British Council advising it that the broadcast had been canceled, and the U.S. Embassy in London confirmed Friday that the program was indeed off--with no further explanation.
The British Council protested to the U.S. Embassy in London, and in Washington the British Embassy "lodged our distress" with USIA.
"We are puzzled that we have never been given an explanation," said Sally deSousa, arts officer at the embassy. Other sources noted privately that the matter had caused an "enormous amount of embarrassment" for U.S. diplomats in London.
Similarly, officials at AFI were miffed by the sudden change, and officials canceled Sutherland's trip.
But USIA officials denied that the program was ever scrubbed. A spokesman, William Reinckens, said, "To my knowledge, it was never canceled." Late Friday, he said the program would be broadcast as originally scheduled.
It was, but without Sutherland, whose travel plans already had been changed.
Reinckens said confusion had developed after some technical problems arose concerning which cities would be involved in the international broadcast. In addition to broadcasting the program to London and Brussels, which have special television equipment at the U.S. embassies, the show was originally scheduled to be beamed to Madrid and Belgrade, which do not.
But Reinckens said USIA officials were concerned that adding Madrid and Belgrade to the broadcast would add $19,000 to the $3,000 overall cost for broadcasting the hourlong show. So Monday morning's show wound up being beamed to London, Brussels, Copenhagen and Paris.
Outside the USIA, many who had been involved in arranging guest appearances for the show were shaking their heads.