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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Paxman summarises Foreign Office discussion of BBC World Service's 241m users

How many millions listen to the World Service in some form? A mere 241 million people, they say – the figures are so vast as not to mean very much. But it must be many more than will ever clap eyes on William Hague, listen to an ambassadorial speech or attend a Foreign Office leadership conference. The World Service's misfortune was to be controlled by the Foreign Office. I can imagine the scene when the menacing note comes across from the Treasury. "Good Heavens!" says the Permanent Secretary, "they want us to save money. Anyone got any ideas?" No one suggests abandoning the pile on the Faubourg Saint-Honoré or recognising that perhaps the whole diplomatic service belongs to the days before email and the internet – the telephone even. Then a voice pipes up, "I know, why don't we hand the BBC World Service over to the BBC and make it their problem?" "Excellent," says the PS. "Shall we have a cup of tea?"

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