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THE BBC World Service hit on a very good idea in inviting UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to give the inaugural World Service Lecture on Wednesday to mark its 70th birthday. Mr Annan has spoken in the past, without any prompting, about the value of the World Service and in this lecture he amplified his ideas on the role it plays in ensuring a free flow of news in the world. It is hard to think of any other international broadcasting organisation which could expect the world's leading civil servant to praise it for its objectivity and comprehensiveness and, at the same time, acknowledge the influential part that it had played in his own early life. Recalling his time as a boy in Ghana, Mr Annan said: “I remember, growing up in Ghana during the struggle for independence, the suspenseful silence that would descend on parents and professors alike at the approach of the latest headlines.” He said that for many people, ”the BBC World Service has been a lifeline – to learning, to enlightenment, to hope itself”. Although the World Service is running a series of programmes and events to mark its 70th birthday there has been disappointingly little interest in this milestone from other sources in the UK. At a time when too few things come out of Britain that are really world class, the BBC World Service is a symbol of excellence in broadcasting, recognised almost everywhere as a reliable source of informed and objective news and comment.

RAY FLEMING