Fire-fighting the news: the story of the story

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The Independent Online
As fire brigades from both sides of the Channel fought the tunnel blaze, the question was posed last night: did Eurotunnel news managers indulge in their own brand of fire-fighting? writes Michael Streeter

There was concern that the company, which had privately dreadedthe damage such a fire would have on the tunnel's image, might have tried to play down the impact of the fire - only to be forced to reveal the full extent as more details began to emerge.

One BBC journalist said yesterday: "While there was no feeling of a deliberate attempt to manage the news, there was a sense of some complacency on their part. And I think the spin doctors were spinning in the initial period between 11pm and 3am."

Certainly the first comments from Eurotunnel press officers just after midnight yesterday to the British media were stressing the minimal casualties and expressed a lack of information about the problems. At 00.08 a spokesman said: "We do not know exactly what damage has been caused because the firefighters are still dealing with it."

Shortly afterwards a spokesman was already putting the the on-going incident into historical context.

"This is the first fire in the tunnel since it opened in 1994," he said.

As the morning media covered the drama, the company was still emphasising the success of the safety procedures and praising rescue crews.

Alain Bertrand, director of Eurotunnel Operations at Calais, told BBC TV Breakfast News: "They have done a very very good job indeed."

Eurotunnel press officer Alison Andrews denied any complacency and said the company has simply given the information as it came in and was confirmed. "I think we played it straight," she said.