Amid furor over TV show, new funding for its producer

By , Television Critic of The Christian Science Monitor

In the midst of an international uproar caused by official Saudi Arabian objections to the airing on British and American television of "Death of a Princess," a docu-drama concerning the recent execution of a Saudi princess acused of adultery, the quasi-official Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) announced it would contribute $500,000 toward the funding for another year of the series under whose aegis the program was produced.

("Princess" airs May 12 in the United States on PBS, 8-10 p.m., check local listings).

On the same day as the CPB announcement, May 8, Mobil Oil's vocal vice-president for public affairs, Herb Schmertz, bought space in major American newspapers calling on the management of Public Broadcasting Service to "review its decision to run this film and exercise responsible judgment in the light of what is in the best interest of the United States." He also made much of the fact that "congressional appropriations have indirectly made possible the television structure which helped produced and will disseminate the show."

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According to Mr. Schmertz, "Other nations may not understand how one branch of government may deplore or regret a film offensive to a friendly country while another unwillingly supports it financially."

Saudi Arabia is a major source of Mobil oil supplies. Mobil, in turn, has been a major funder of PBS programming, giving more than $3 million a year for the underwriting of "Masterpiece Theatre" and other noncontroversial series.

At the same time that CPB was announcing future funding for "World," the WGBH/Boston-produced series that was ending its three-year run with "Princess" due to lack of funding, there were voices in the House of Representatives calling for cancellation of the film airing. Meanwhile, the State Department was forwarding a formal letter of protest from the Saudi Arabian government to PBS. The network, however, made clear that it will not change its plan to run the film.

"World" executive producer David Fanning of WGHB told the Monitor that although he is grateful for the CPB announcement of future funding, especially at this time, "World" still needs approximately $1 1/2 million more to go ahead with a new season on a weekly basis. Other past funders, such as the Ford Foundation and Polaroid, have dropped out.

Mr. Fanning was particularly disturbed at the "constant attempts" to tie PBS funding to the government. "There is great insulation between CPB funding and the government," he said. "It is hard to see how any impartial observer could confuse the two."

Meanwhile, the Saudi government ponders its next move. Besides the protest to the US State Department, it already has recalled its ambassador from Britain, revoked permission for British Concordes to land at Saudi airfields, and ordered all of its embassies to stop issuing visas to foreigners. Some observers think the Saudis will consider the new CPB funding, coming as it does in the midst of the controversy, a new "slap in the face."

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