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US tribute to Poland: suitable for home TV?

An international television and radio tribute to Poland that could reach millions of people around the world on Sunday has caused a small internecine battle in Washington.

In one corner is the US government's International Communications Agency (USICA) and in the other is the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

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Behind the issue is the question of whether PBS stations should risk appearing to be arms of the government by broadcasting domestically a program that may be seen as propaganda.

The program, ''Let Poland Be Poland -- A Day of Solidarity with the People of Poland,'' was organized by Charles Z. Wick, President Reagan's energetic new director of USICA. He claims it could be picked up by close to 500 million people.

But most television networks in Western Europe have decided against broadcasting the show direct from satellite transmission, according to Reuter news agency. The networks say they will wait until they have seen the show before deciding if and how they will use it.

In the US both houses of Congress must pass a special waiver to the rule that prohibits programs produced by government agencies for overseas broadcast from being shown domestically in order for the show to be heard on domestic airwaves. The waiver is now in the process of being adopted.

As matters stand now, the USICA has leased time on a PBS satellite transmitting transponder at 2 p.m. Sunday. The show will be available for pickup around the world at that time for transmission live, or by tape for later transmission.

Assuming the expected congressional approval, any PBS station that wishes to do so may air the show at its own discretion. But Larry Grossman, PBS president, wants to make it clear to the world that this is not a PBS show, although it may be seen on PBS.

''It is a very sensitive issue, '' Mr. Grossman told the Monitor. ''Public television is not an arm of the government and should never be looked upon as that. The ground rules in the Telecommunications Act of 1978 make it compulsory for us to provide access on our transponders to independent producers if time is available. USICA is being treated like any other producer wishing to purchase time.

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''But realistically, nobody in the world understands the difference between a program that is being aired on a PBS station and a PBS program. We want everybody to know, however, that this is not a PBS program, that we are not a propaganda arm of the government.''

USICA Director Wick, on the other hand, insisted that the waivers will not be perceived as a precedent. According to him, there have already been 70 waivers, although it was not clear whether they involved television, radio, or print publications.

According to Mr. Wick, it is important for the people of the US to feel that they, too, are part of the program. The Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Liberty will be carrying the audio around the world. But there has not yet been any definite arrangement for radio airing in the US.

With Charlton Heston and Orson Welles acting as hosts, the program appears to depend on a large dose of American ''show biz'' to carry the message to the rest of the world. Frank Sinatra is to sing the patriotic Polish song ''Ever Homeward'' in Polish. Some of the other luminaries who have already agreed to take part are Bob Hope, Glenda Jackson, Kirk Douglas, Joanne Woodward, James Michener, and Mstislav Rostropovich. The Swedish rock group ABBA will perform.

Mr. Wick indicated that among the American political figures who will appear are President Ronald Reagan, Sen. Howard Baker and Rep. Thomas P. (''Tip'') O'Neill, all of whom will deliver words of support and sympathy for the current plight of the Polish people.

International figures on the show will include Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt as well as the prime ministers of Portugal, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, Japan, Australia, Canada, Italy, Iceland, and Spain.

''My main hope,'' Mr. Wick said, ''is that millions of ordinary people as well as statesmen will speak in one giant voice to the Polish people and the Soviet Union. The reverberations, one hopes, will shake loose some of the constraints on the Polish people. We know that the Soviets are very sensitive to world opinion. . . .''

Viewers who wish to express their views on whether the show should be run on Sunday or a later date still have time to contact their local PBS station.

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