Officials of the Public Broadcasting Service yesterday reiterated their intention to air a controversial two-hour docudrama called "Death of a Princess" on May 12, despite increasing hints that the Saudi Arabian government might be angered should the telecast be scheduled.
The drama reconstructs the story of 19-year-old Saudi princess Misuaal, who was executed by a firing squad in Saudi Arabia in November 1977 and her lover, who was publicly beheaded by an executioner's sword.
The film has angered the Saudi royal family, which has already sought unsuccessfully to prevent its airing in Great Britain and Holland.
Yesterday, Barry Chase, director of current affairs programming for PBS, said "we're going to run it. Period.
"It's a dramatization and the factual record seems to be accurate and so far there's been no allegation that it isn't."
Chase confirmed that an unnamed State Department official late yesterday called to ask how many PBS stations might carry the program on May 12, the first such contact made here by the department.
PBS president Lawrence Grossman said he "stands" on his statement of April 11, at which time he said that "the program does not violate any PBS guidelines," and would, therefore, be aired on the schedule.
A State Department official yesterday told a reporter that "so far there has been no official representation" by the Saudi government to the U.S. regarding "Death of a Princess."
However, Roger Merrick, deputy director for the Arabian Peninsula at State, said the department "is obviously acutely aware of (Saudi) concern."
He declined to speculate on what actions would or could be taken should the Saudi government make representations to the U.S. concerning the telecast.
The Saudi government yesterday ordered its new ambassador to the Court of St. James to withhold the presentation of his credentials because of what they regard to be "a shameful" TV program.
In addition, the Saudi council of ministers decreed that the presence of the British ambassador to the kingdom "is not neccessary at this time," in effect ordering the British envoy home to London.
The Saudi government first attempted to halt the airing of the program in Britain on April 14, but while the British foreign minister sent a message to the Saudi foreign minister at the time, expressing "deep regret," he also explained the government could not stop the film being shown.
Several days later, despite further Saudi protests, the film was shown on Dutch television.
The Saudi royal family reportedly was angered by suggestions in the film that the princess' grandfather . . . an elder brother of the Saudi king . . . ordered the execution as an example to other young princesses and because of allusions to corruption and illicit sex among members of the royal family . . .
Yesterday's action by the Saudi council of ministers prompted speculation that the kingdom was also making apparent to other governments . . . including the United States . . . its displeasure with future attempts to show the film. . .
The two-hour film is part of the "World" series produced by WGBH, the public station in Boston, and was co-produced with ATV in England over the past two years for "just under $500,000," according to a station spokesman . . . .
Funding for the "World" series, including "Death of a Princess," came from member PBS stations, the German Marshall Fund, Polaroid, the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting . . . .
Peter McGhee, head of public affairs programming for WGBH, said yesterday that "nobody's challenged the truth of the program . . . nobody's said it's not a fair and true account . . . what [the Saudis] have asserted is that they're embarrassed."
CPB president Robben Fleming issued a statement yesterday that "CPB funds series and programs for public broadcasting, television and radio. There is no influence from the Corporation on content or airing. Decisions of content and airing are entirely from the stations; CPB has no control, nor was it intended to have."
Chase yesterday estimated that on past experience "about 80 percent" of the 142 PBS licensees that subscribe to the "World" series (out of 160 in the PBS system) will carry it May 12. . . .
He said the stations have had a chance toopreview the program twice . . . once about 10 days ago and again yesterday. . . .
He did not say if any stations have refused to cover carry it so far . . . .
At the time the Saudi and British governments first became embroiled in the dispute . . . an unconfirmed rumor swept London that the royal family had offered $10 million to the British TV network if it would not carry the program. . . .
More recently . . . another unconfirmed rumor has a Swedish businessman . . . apparently with business interests in the Mideast . . . buying up commercial rights to "Death of a Princess" so it could not be shown on Swedish television. . . .
One potential problem concerning the telecast of "Death of a Princess" here is that, indirectly, U.S. funds, allocated by Congress, were used in the production of the program, as well as for the probable May 12 telecast.