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Thursday, July 2, 1998 Published at 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK

UK Politics

Spin doctor and TV host in row

Paxman: It's our job to interrogate

A war of words has erupted between BBC TV host Jeremy Paxman and the prime minister's press secretary Alastair Campbell.

Mr Campbell had rubbished his BBC2 Newsnight current affairs programme. But Mr Paxman flatly rejected the criticism, accusing the government of being "obsessed" with public relations.

The row began with suggestions in the media that ministers were "running scared" from difficult interviews and that relations between the government and the BBC were "dire".

[ image: Campbell: No BBC-government split]
Campbell: No BBC-government split
Mr Blair's chief "spin doctor" wrote to The Times newspaper denying this. He said relations between the two were "perfectly good" and that the government rarely had cause to complain about BBC coverage.

But he hit at two programmes - Newsnight and Radio 4's World at One.

"Any programme which has a habit of getting interviewees on one basis and then interviewing them on another is bound to have some effect on our judgment," he said.

He said one minister believed he had been made to look like a criminal on the BBC2 show.

'Our testing job'

But in an article for the Evening Standard, Mr Paxman denied trying to make anyone appear like a criminal.

He wrote: "The real reason for His Master's Voice coming out with this distortion is that part of the government thinks it has 'a problem' with the World at One and Newsnight.

"What this means is that we aren't, apparently, 'on message'. Speaking for myself - and I can only speak for myself - if there is a message, I want to be off it.

"It is the journalist's job to find things which powerful people don't want to tell us and the interrogator's job to test their arguments."

Because of Mr Campbell's rules, there is much haggling over who has the first and last words between the government and programme makers, he added.

And Mr Paxman criticised Tony Blair. The prime minister wanted to talk not about Kosovo, Drumcree or the economy - but about the World Cup, he said.

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