Howard denies killing election ''worm''

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Sydney, Oct 22 (UNI) Amid accusations that the government was trying to curb press freedom by trying to banish the ''worm'' from the television screens, Australian Prime Minister John Howard today denied killing it by pulling the Nine Network's broadcast feed during the live televised leaders' debate.

''The decision about the feed was taken by the National Press Club(NPC). I don't have any comment. If you want to talk about that, go to the NPC,'' the Age quoted him as saying.

Nine's news chief John Westacott accused the ABC and the NPC of pulling the feed midway through last night's 90-minute live debate because the network was using the worm in its coverage.

Nine Network's worm gauges reactions from a group of 90 voters in its studio audience, turning white and crawling up when sentiment is positive, but borrowing down and glowing red when audience feeling turns negative. It runs along the bottom of the television screen.

The Prime Minister had said before the debate that he did not want the worm, while Labor leader Kevin Rudd was in favour of it.

According to Nine's worm, Mr Rudd won the debate with 65 per cent approval, compared to John Howard's 29 per cent.

Health Minister Tony Abbott questioned the result, saying that the worm was simply responding to preconceptions.

''To me, it is pretty clear that that was an audience that had already made up its mind who it was in favour of, and I wonder how that audience was selected. I don't think the worm was a fair reflection,'' he quipped.

The NPC is expected to meet this afternoon to discuss the worm issue.

UNI

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