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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain should abandon its plan to cut funding for the BBC World Service or at least ring-fence some parts of it, including BBC Arabic, in the light of the upheaval in the region, parliamentarians said on Wednesday.
The World Service broadcasts to an audience of millions through its English and 26 other language services, reduced this year from 31.
It is one of the best known arms of the British Broadcasting Corporation abroad, notably in developing countries.
The World Service has been slashing costs in response to a decision by the foreign ministry to reduce its funding by 16 percent over the next four years, after which the funding will come from the license fee paid by all television viewers.
"The BBC World Service has been described by (former U.N. Secretary General) Kofi Annan as 'perhaps Britain's greatest gift to the world,'" said Richard Ottaway, Chairman of the House of Common Foreign Affairs Committee.
"The value of the World Service in promoting the UK across the globe, by providing a widely respected and trusted news service, far outweighs its relatively small cost... To proceed with the planned cuts to the World Service would be a false economy," he added in a statement.
The committee called for "damage limitation" if the funding is reduced despite its recommendation, in particular to protect BBC Hindi and BBC China Mandarin services but also to boost support for BBC Arabic.
"The recent dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown that the 'soft power' wielded through the World Service could bring even more benefits to the UK in the future than it has in the past," Ottaway said.
Internet networks and news spread online have played a crucial role in the pro-democracy protests that have rocked the region this year.
The World Service said in January it expected its global audience to fall by more than 30 million from the weekly figure of 180 million as a result of closure or shrinking of more than half of its language services.
Reporting by Olesya Dmitracova; Editing by Steve Addison