For a long time, the BBC has enjoyed strong brand recognition in Bangkok, as anyone working for the UK broadcaster can tell you. Tell a taxi driver in Bangkok that you are with the BBC and you can expect an enthusiastic response, or at least an appreciative nod. One of the reasons for this name recognition is the BBC's daily Thai-language radio programming broadcast from London, relayed by FM and AM stations in Bangkok. The BBC first began broadcasting in Thai in 1941, during the second world war. Today, it is one of 42 foreign-language services that the BBC provides for free, thanks to an annual government grant worth GBP239 million ($3.3 billion) this year. It employs a team of Thai nationals in London and reporters in Thailand. But not for much longer. In a cost-cutting exercise to free up money for a new Arabic-language TV channel, the BBC has announced that it is axing the Thai service, along with several East European language channels. The reason given is that the targeted countries now have plenty of free and independent news media of their own. The closure has sparked indignant letters to Bangkok newspapers and a flurry of online petitioning. 'Please keep this light burning,' urged Naiyana Supapung, a member of the National Human Rights Commission. Other responders cited the need for continued BBC coverage of Thailand's violence-torn Muslim south, where the local media runs into problems. But the complaints have been to no avail, and the final broadcast is set for next March. BBC insiders grumble that the corporation is already pouring resources into Middle East coverage at the expense of regions that do not figure as highly in America's 'war on terror'. But with Al-Jazeera and other Arabic stations grabbing attention in the Muslim world, it's not surprising that the BBC wants in. CNN has an Arabic-language website. Al-Jazeera is also preparing its own English-language news channel to challenge the BBC-CNN duopoly. As for Thai listeners, while they can find plenty of news and information on other radio stations, the overall outlook for the news media here is decidedly mixed. The BBC's announcement came just one week after Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog, published its annual World Press Freedom Index. The index made for alarming reading: Thailand tumbled from 57th place to 107th, a woeful ranking for a country once hailed as a beacon of press freedom in Southeast Asia. That is better than neighbouring Myanmar - ranked 163rd out of 167th - and stifling Singapore and Malaysia. But it is far from the rosy assessment of the BBC's freedom-loving bosses.