Blair to face new calls over Murdoch links

Click to follow
DOWNING Street was put back on the defensive last night over the Prime Minister's links with Rupert Murdoch after fresh allegations of Tony Blair's intervention on his behalf in a deal for control of an Italian broadcasting group.

Mr Murdoch called Mr Blair from Milan early last week, according to reports, when Mr Murdoch visited Italy to close the deal with Silvio Berlusconi, the Opposition leader in Italy, for control of Mediaset.

The fresh allegations reopen the controversy after the Prime Minister 24 hours earlier had refused to confirm or deny raising Mr Murdoch's bid for Mediaset with Romani Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister.

Mr Murdoch told senior executives of his News Corp, owners of the Times, that he would telephone Mr Blair to help him find out whether the Italian government would oppose the takeover, the Financial Times reported. Downing Street said last night: "We don't detail conversations the Prime Minister may or may not have had with people."

The President of the Board of Trade, Margaret Beckett, yesterday rejected a demand by Paddy Ashdown for Mr Murdoch's take-over of the Times to be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission for editorial interference over China, in breach of his own 1981 take-over promises.

Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's official spokesman, could be called before the Commons select committee on public administration to give assurances that there has been no political interference in the appointment of Whitehall press officers.