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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cutting the BBC World Service. We are degrading a key asset which projects our culture, influence and language.

On a visit to Beijing a couple of years ago, I was struck by how frequently I was stopped in the street. Those learning English wanted to practise their skills. So what? Well it is a recognition that the world’s largest populated country, values the key communication asset of another. Chinese is a tonal language not easily mastered by outsiders and yet Britain, a pin-prick in size, is home to the world's lingua franca.

All the more reprehensible then of the cuts announced yesterday at the BBC World Service. Cutting Albanian and Serbian services may seem marginal to our lives, but in recent times, these have been areas of instability and we are not to know where the next conflict may be. The World Service enables us to project our interests, values and culture in a cost-effective manner. It is trusted and in a world of variable freedoms respected as an impartial source.

We have a history of punching above our weight and the causes are of historical accident. We are at the centre of the Mercator world map, live on the 0 degrees line of longitude and are the home of GMT. We have a top seat at the UN and for better or worse, are still a financial centre of note. English is the language of air traffic control and it has a heady presence on the Internet.

This budget cut is a short-sighted move. When we have few levers to project ourselves in the global economy, we are degrading a key asset. This is a cut which has not been properly thought out. Our weak communication skills compromise our business and employability abilities at home. It is even worse for a trading nation, when we start dismantling a key asset which promotes us so well abroad.

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