Leading article: A trusted voice in turbulent times

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At a time when the talk in the world of communications is of smaller, "smarter", devices supplying a mind-boggling variety of personalised information, it is cheering to learn that the good old BBC World Service is attracting a record audience. By country, the figures show that an admirable combination of old and new factors contributes to this achievement.

Old factors include the universality of English: the global audience for the English-language service has risen by an estimated 3 million in a year. The figures also show that listening to the World Service on crackly short-wave is still a solution in countries where governments try to maintain a monopoly on information.

Among the new factors, perversely, may be the development of receivers that can be wound up rather than needing batteries or electricity. At the other end of the technology scale are the relay agreements the World Service has concluded with cities around the world and the availability of the World Service on digital radio. New technology, it seems, has not killed World Service radio, as was feared; it has facilitated listening and drawn new audiences.

The best news for the prospects of the World Service, however, is the persistence of bad news. Uncertainty, whether it takes the form of the continuing war in Iraq, the aftermath of the tsunami or the recent unrest in Nepal, increases the BBC's audience because it remains a source of information people trust. So long as this holds true, the BBC World Service is a national asset worth every penny of the Government's grant-in-aid - and proof that radio as a medium has life in it yet.

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