Murdoch pops in to advise Blair

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR met Rupert Murdoch at Downing Street yesterday, officials confirmed. It followed protests by Labour MPs over the Government's Competition Bill, which some believe will not provide tough enough rules to control predatory pricing by Mr Murdoch's News International group.

Downing Street would not say why the Prime Minister met Mr Murdoch but ministers yesterday stressed that they believed their Bill would control predatory pricing.

A legal opinion by the Attorney-General, John Morris,suggested the Bill could affect Mr Murdoch's newspapers. But any action to prevent predatory pricing would depend on a case being lodged and won at the European Court of Justice.

The Government has made clear it intends overturning a House of Lords amendment which would strengthen the Bill's provisions against predatory pricing.

A few weeks ago Mr Blair mentioned Mr Murdoch's interest in a share in Italian broadcasting in a phone conversation with Italy's Prime Minister, Romano Prodi. Ministers denied he lobbied Mr Prodi for help in Mr Murdoch's proposed acquisition of Italy's top commercial television network. Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's spokesman, derided the report as a "joke" before Mr Murdoch's Times said he had phoned Mr Blair ask him to try to ascertain if the Italian government would block his bid. Within two days Mr Blair rang Mr Murdoch back to disclose that Mr Prodi would prefer an Italian purchaser.

Ministers insisted Mr Prodi initiated the phone call with Mr Blair and that reports were wrong about the Prime Minister intervening on behalf of Mr Murdoch in return for the Sun switching support from the Tories to Labour at the election.

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