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Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 17:37 GMT 18:37 UK
Campbell makes screen debut

Alastair Campbell watching over the media
A BBC TV documentary has shed unique light on the relationship between the prime minister and his influential press secretary, Alastair Campbell.

The film-makers had unprecedented access to Mr Campbell at a time when the government was under intense pressure.

During filming, Mr Campbell decided to seek a more background role, but the two men contradict each other on the reasons for his decision.

Mr Blair says it was his decision that his press secretary withdraw from daily contact with the media. But Mr Campbell says he withdrew because his dealings with the press had turned to "combat".

The BBC film breaks new political ground by showing some of the inner workings of the relationship between Number 10 and Westminster's lobby journalists.

It also shows Mr Campbell categorically deny he ever described Chancellor Gordon Brown as "psychologically flawed".

Some journalists have alleged Mr Campbell was the source of the comment, which caused a huge row which has simmered ever since.

Unprecedented access


After the 1997 election Alastair Campbell went to Downing Street with Tony Blair
To make the documentary, News from Number 10, reporter Michael Cockerell and his crew had to gain weeks of unprecedented access to meetings that take place behind closed doors.

Several in Number 10 and among Westminster's lobby correspondents had been opposed to the access given to the team.

Although the public will see for the first time the extent of Downing Street's attention to the minutest media detail, the film contains no smoking gun that will finish off Mr Campbell.

Of the decision for him to withdraw from daily contact with the media, Mr Blair tells the programme: "I decided some time ago that it was sensible for him to step back from doing all the lobby briefings every day, otherwise he can't also look at how we are trying to get the government's message across or what we are saying, in a broader sense."

But Mr Campbell strikes a different tone, saying: "We had, and I particularly had, got myself into a situation where combat was the only language that was being spoken, which is not necessarily terribly sensible either way."

Since taking up his job as Mr Blair's official spokesman he has come under fire for making himself the story, allegedly briefing against ministers, overstepping the boundary between being a civil servant (he is paid by the taxpayer) and party propagandist, and for being unaccountable.

'Best in the business' - Blair


Tony Blair: Likes to think he has hired "the best in the business"
During the film, Mr Blair also brushes aside his slow-handclapping by the Women's Institute last month, saying: "If you start letting it dominate or dictate your life, that's how you stop doing the job of prime minister well."

On Mr Campbell's role, the prime minister says: "The press secretary's important for the prime minister, it would be odd if he wasn't.

"I'd like to think I have hired the best in the business, I hope I have, of course.

"It's a 24-hour-a-day news media. If a story comes out that says something and you haven't got the capacity to get on top and say the facts are 'X and Y'... it's important to have the capacity to get on top of the news, in so far as it's possible.

"But it's less important to us than I think it is in the way people perceive it."

Planted questions

Viewers will see Mr Campbell giving a reporter questions to ask in order to change the direction of a Belfast news conference.

Embarrassingly for the willing reporter, his helpful questions are spectacularly ignored by Mr Blair, who appears not to notice what is going on and refuses to answer them.

The careful, detailed media choreographing of things such as the handshake between Mr Blair and another head of state that goes into the news management of state visits is also shown.

Asked directly if he ever described Mr Brown as "psychologically flawed" Mr Campbell insists: "It's not true, absolutely not true."

Mr Campbell insists: "My dealings with the press are just part of the job. Over time, believe me, the real message of this government is going to get out and the real record of this government is going to get out and I will be part of that.

"It [press speculation] doesn't worry me, it doesn't faze me, they can pump it out all they want because in the end I do what I do because I believe in it and I think it matters."

News from Number 10 is screened on Saturday 15 July on BBC 2 at 1940 BST.

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