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Down the Tube

January 15, 1986

For the last 18 months ABC television has been working on plans for an expensive miniseries called "Amerika," a view of what life would be like in the United States 10 years after a supposedly bloodless conquest by the Soviet Union. Now ABC says that the project has been "postponed." High production costs were cited as a main reason. But ABC concedes another consideration as well: It has chosen to take seriously a warning to its Moscow bureau chief from the Soviet Foreign Ministry that ABC's news operations in the Soviet Union could be jeopardized if the series were put on the air.

There is no way to know what part this Soviet blackmail played in ABC's decision to put off the "Amerika" project. But by admitting that the Soviet threat was an influencing factor the network acknowledges its own responsiveness. And so a deeply disturbing precedent has been set. The crude intervention by a foreign government in the commercial and artistic affairs of an American television network has been allowed to appear successful in influencing that company's production decisions.

It is irrelevant at this point whether "Amerika" would have been the greatest thing ever to appear on television or whether it would have been typical prime-time trash. What matters is the impression that has been left that ABC has allowed its independence to be compromised. A Soviet embassy spokesman in Washington has expressed satisfaction with the ABC action. Precedents establish new boundary lines. The ugly certainty is that what worked once will be tried again.

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