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3 Ex-u.s. Officials Hit Abc For 'Amerika' Series

January 22, 1987|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — ABC, whose "Amerika" miniseries has angered the left, the right, the Soviet Union and the United Nations even before it has aired, now has a letter of concern signed by three former U.S. secretaries of State.

In it, Edmund Muskie, Alexander M. Haig and Dean Rusk urged the network to provide programming about U.N. peacekeeping operations to offset the miniseries' depictions of oppression by Soviet-controlled U.N. forces.

The 14 1/2-hour production, to air Feb. 15-22, dramatizes life in the United States 10 years after a bloodless takeover by the Soviet Union, with the occupation forces known as "U.N. Special Service Units."

ABC had no immediate comment Wednesday on their appeal, made in a letter to Capital Cities/ABC board Chairman Thomas S. Murphy. An ABC spokesman said Murphy was out of town when the letter arrived Tuesday afternoon and had not seen it yet. Murphy is due back today, he said.

ABC officials previously have insisted that the $35-million miniseries in no way means to disparage the United Nations as it exists today.

Still, in their appeal to ABC, Haig, Muskie, Rusk and several other former top U.S. officials expressed concern "that the portrayal of U.N. peacekeeping forces as brutal oppressors . . . will undermine public support for one of the most valuable aspects of the U.N.'s work."

They asserted that "ABC could limit this damage by providing programming in conjunction with the miniseries that presents a balanced picture of the U.N.'s real-life efforts to keep peace in a troubled world."

The letter was organized and sent by the United Nations Assn. of the U.S.A., a private research and educational group. Others who signed the letter included Jeane Kirkpatrick and Andrew Young, two former chief U. S. delegates to the United Nations.

Former national security advisers Robert McFarlane--now a central figure in the Iran- contra arms investigation--and Brent Scowcroft also signed the appeal.

The petition was yet another round in efforts by the United Nations and its supporters to seek changes in "Amerika" and to provide what they call a true picture of U.N. peacekeeping forces in the world's trouble spots.

In October, the United Nations, distressed by the the use of blue-and-white U.N. symbols and the depiction of oppressive, black-uniformed U.N. troops in "Amerika," hired Theodore Sorensen, once a special counsel to President John F. Kennedy, to negotiate with the network for changes.

In a Nov. 25 letter to ABC's Murphy, Sorenson emphasized that the United Nations wasn't threatening a lawsuit "to censor, suppress or block" the show's broadcast but was requesting that the network, among other things:

--Make a "good-faith effort" to "achieve the maximum possible de-emphasis of all unauthorized and undignified use of and reference to the symbols and uniforms of the United Nations and its peacekeeping forces. . . ."

--Air before each episode a 90- to 120-second announcement by a spokesman for either the United Nations or the United Nations Assn. that makes clear that the U.N. forces depicted in the program "bear no resembles to the true U.N. peacekeeping force. . . ."

--For three months after "Amerika" airs, provide the U.N. "free public service airtime . . . for the presentation of 'U.N. Minutes' or other brief 'spots' or documentaries designed to bolster audience understanding of the U.N. as it actually is."

In a Dec. 11 reply to Sorenson, ABC's chief attorney, Stephen A. Weiswasser, said that the matter could be discussed. But he rejected what he called the world agency's contention that "Amerika" would portray the U.N. in a disparaging manner "that will damage its ability to perform its important functions in the world."

He said the drama "renders it unmistakable that the activities and institutions of . . . the United States and of the United Nations, as they are depicted in the series, bear no substantive resemblance to those institutions as they exist and function today."

Discussions have been going on between ABC and Sorenson, said Dick Connelly, a network spokesman, "and hopefully there will be a resolution of some of the U.N. concerns." He declined to elaborate on the talks.

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