Kelvin MacKenzie accused of courting publicity in legal dispute

Kelvin Mackenzie, the founder and chief executive of Wireless Group, was yesterday accused in the High Court of using a campaign of "hot air" in the press against an industry organisation in order to attract publicity for his radio stations.

Mr MacKenzie, a former editor of The Sun, is suing Rajar, the radio sector's body for providing official audience figures, for £66m because he believes that the system discriminates against the Wireless stations - especially its flagship talkSPORT brand.

At issue is a decision taken in June last year by Rajar not to adopt a new electronic method for measuring audiences to replace its long-standing "diary" system - where survey participants write down which stations they listen to each day.

Mr MacKenzie's Wireless Group believes that Rajar's persistence with the diary amounts to an abuse of its dominant market position. The High Court yesterday heard an action brought by Rajar to strike out the Wireless claim before it reaches a full trial.

Nick Green QC, who presented the case for Rajar, said that ahead of the issue reaching court, Mr MacKenzie had used it as a publicity stunt. He pointed to "hot air that has been ventilated in the press". He quoted from several newspaper articles, including one in which Mr MacKenzie said of Rajar: "I want to torture those bastards in court."

Mr Green told the judge: "In the press Mr MacKenzie has accused Rajar of fraud, not a case that is advanced in the pleading [in court]. It's reflective on a fact that we say underlies this case which is that it's all about publicity, it being a truism that all publicity is good publicity."

Mr MacKenzie was in court yesterday but the hearing will not result in any witnesses being called. The former Sun editor listened intently to the arguments put forward by Mr Green. Wireless will present its side today. Afterwards, Mr MacKenzie's only comment was a sarcastic quip, uttered as he walked past the Rajar executives and their lawyers outside the court room. "You're doing very well, guys," he said.

Mr Green disputed the assertion by Wireless that a "resolute decision" had been taken by Rajar not to adopt an electronic measuring system. He said that Rajar had "deferred" a decision and was testing competing electronic systems. He pointed to Rajar's stated aim of having the new technology in place by January 2007.

He said that Rajar was moving towards electronic measurement but the systems it had tested so far were unsatisfactory. He said that Wireless wanted the change before more refined devices became available - one of the companies involved has still not provided Rajar with its new model.

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