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SYDNEY — More than 1.44 million Australians tuned in Sunday to watch a debate between Prime Minister John Howard and opposition leader Kevin Rudd, making it the most watched show of the night.

But the most talked-about detail was a Nine Network instant survey of 90 likely voters to show who is winning the debate ahead of November’s elections.

Howard, who is trailing in the polls, said he would only participate in the debate if the graphic was removed.

After Nine Network refused, the National Press Club, which hosted the debate, pulled Nine’s live feed and when the web switched to the feed from pubcaster the ABC it too was pulled. Nine finally took a feed from Sky News.

“The pulling of the feeds from the Great Debate last night was a blatant act of political censorship,” said Nine’s topper of news and current affairs John Westacott.

“The ABC and the National Press Club conspired to do the bidding of the Liberal Party to present the blandest possible leaders debate. At no time did the Nine Network agree to any conditions — either verbally or in writing — about how the debate should be broadcast.”

The survey has been a feature of the election debates since 1993. On Sunday it declared Rudd, the winner with 65% of votes vs. 29% for the prime minister.