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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 11:53 GMT
Radio boss calls for BBC sell-off
Kelvin MacKenzie: "The present system damages me tremendously"

Radio boss Kelvin MacKenzie has told MPs that the BBC should be privatised and non-payment of the licence fee should be decriminalised.

The chief executive of Talk Radio, a famous former editor of The Sun, was giving evidence to the Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the funding of the BBC.

He told the committee the BBC was a taxpayer-funded monopoly which was losing his commercial company money.

He personally wanted to see the BBC privatised as "the present system damages me tremendously".

Mr MacKenzie wants the BBC privatised
He told the committee: "I'm not saying shut down the network, I'm in fact saying privatise it."

Mr MacKenzie said his argument was not against what the corporation produced, but its place in a commercial world.

He used the example of sports rights. The BBC could bid for using large amounts of licence payers' money compared to lesser bids paid for by advertising from commercial stations, he complained.

Mr MacKenzie told MPs that his station was aimed at an 18-45 male audience and needed sports rights to help secure this and, in turn, generate advertising revenue.

He questioned why the state finance should continue in broadcasting when it was no longer necessary in other industries, such as the privatised utilities.

Mr MacKenzie said: "In the real world, I don't go down to the Tesco and find a state-funded cake shop next to it which demands it has all the blinking cakes in the area.

"It's a simple as that. All I'm trying to get people to address is the changing world and the amount of money the taxpayer is prepared to spend as the licence payer against a narrowly-funded business like my own losing quite a considerable amount of money is denying me the right.

"So I have a suggestion, because I realise that this Parliament not in a month of Sunday's will privatise [Radio] 1, 2 and 5. So why don't you say, 'Well ok, what we do recognise is that there is an unfairness in this market, which would be normally be dealt with by the competitions commission OFT, and what we will do is cap the spending of 5'."

He said he would be going to the Office of Fair Trading to try to prevent the BBC bidding for "bundled rights", where events are bought for radio and television together.

Although Rupert Murdoch had a 20% stake in Talk Radio, he had no access to BSkyB's coverage, he said.

Claire Ward: Sympathetic to commercial sector
"The inability for us to make money means the commercial speech sector cannot grow", he said.

Committee member Claire Ward said: "I was having some sympathy for the commercial sector until you came along.

"What I've heard so far is what you want rather what is right for a broad section of listeners and needs."

He replied: "The issue of how it affects me is the only way I can speak.

"When you lose as much money through oppressive behaviour of a state-funded body then you'd be as bad tempered as I am."

He told the committee that people only paid the licence fee because they are forced too due to the threat of a jail sentence and called for non-payment to be decriminalised.

Mr MacKenzie said: "If we decriminalised it you'd never see me again, because the BBC would disappear because nobody pays the licence fee because they want to."

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