Blair pooh-poohs Murdoch link

Denies reports he intervened on behalf of News Corp.

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday denied reports he had intervened on behalf of News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch in his unsuccessful bid to buy Italian broadcaster Mediaset.

The reports said Blair had asked Italy Prime Minister Romano Prodi whether his government would block the bid by broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting for Silvio Berlusconi’s controlling interest in Mediaset Spa.

A Blair spokesman told a regular briefing the claims Blair had intervened on Murdoch’s behalf were “a complete joke.”

Italian daily La Stampa first reported the conversation between Prodi and Blair on Monday, and the story was picked up prominently Tuesday by several British newspapers.

Blair’s spokesman said the call from Prodi to Blair covered a range of issues and was part of their regular contact during Britain’s presidency of the European Union.

“This was not a conversation about Rupert Murdoch,” he added, but declined to say whether or not the bid by BSkyB, which is 40% owned by News Corp., was mentioned.

Talks on the TV deal collapsed Friday after Berlusconi rejected a 5.8 trillion lire ($3.2 billion) offer for his stake.

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