Spin fails to hide a bad call

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The Independent Online
THE spin doctors at Downing Street may have been misleading but they avoided direct lies in their attempts to kill the reports that the Prime Minister had spoken about Rupert Murdoch's bid for an Italian Broadcasting Company to Romani Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister. Yesterday, the controversy was in danger of spinning out of control.

Downing Street's initial reaction had been a blanket denial. The Prime Minister's official spokesman was asked at a regular press briefing to comment on a report in the Financial Times, quoting Italian sources, that Mr Blair had intervened by telephoning Mr Prodi. "There was no such phonecall," said the spokesman.

However, under questioning, it became clear that a telephone call had taken place but the denial was that it had been initiated by Mr Blair. That device was used to undermine the veracity of the whole story.

The Prime Minister's spokesman went on: "The FT story was a complete joke ... The Prime Minister and the Italian Prime Minister speak regularly. This was not about Rupert Murdoch ... they had a discussion about common issues and I do not intend to brief upon it."

Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary, is noted for knocking down stories vigorously.

A more junior spokesman yesterday was more cautious in explaining the revelations

When it was put to him that they suggested that Mr Blair was at the beck and call of Mr Murdoch, an American citizen, he replied: "I don't think it suggests that at all. It suggests the Prime Minister would want to help British businessmen. Of course he can have telephone conversations."