Broadcasting is the “most powerful cultural medium” and broadcasters have a social responsibility to introduce people to new and complex ideas, Professor Brian Cox, physicist and science TV presenter, told a packed Forum audience at IBC.
“I don’t want a society where you are a 15-year-old and you can sit in your bedroom and watch the computer games channel 24 hours a day. I want that 15-year-old to be exposed to ideas and obviously the education system does that, but in the past the television system has done that as well,” said Cox.
“How do we protect that in an environment where you choose precisely the sort of content you want to watch? This is where I want to see the innovation working for society. I challenge the idea that the ultimate ideal is choice…it’s really about informed choice. So do we see ourselves (in television) as part of society or as deliverers of things that we know people want or is it some kind of a middle ground?”
Cox’s engaging on-air style has helped popularise TV programmes like Wonders of the Universe and Stargazing Live, moving science more into the mainstream and even increasing interest by young people in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Cox urged the industry to fight to keep these kind of programmes on air, saying that this kind of subject is not simply the purview of public service broadcasters like the BBC but part of a social compact that all broadcasters have with their audiences.
“The cliché is that the big commercial networks don’t do this kind of thing, but Fox in the US backed the new Cosmos,” he said, referring to the re-make of the original series fronted by Carl Sagan in the 1980s, a series that he first saw as a young boy and that inspired him to a career in science.
Cox praised the BBC’s Horizon series strand as a long-standing commitment to science programming and that working over the last six years to produce 19 hours of television has taught him that collaborating with the TV professionals is the best way to produce a good programme, but he thinks about four people is the right number to collaborate on the script. “Making television is a complex thing and when it works and there is a proper exchange of views between the director and the editors and the academic, the result is more than the sum of its parts.”