The BBC can make the UK the best place in the world for science, says Brian Cox

Wonders of the Universe presenter says that if the BBC is given the right funding and freedom it can help “make this country better”

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Professor Brian Cox is used to gazing at the stars but this morning he focussed his attentions on the BBC’s future with a passionate call on Government not to restrict the Corporation’s funding for the good of the nation.

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In a speech at the Science Museum as the BBC outlined a set of new initiatives for its next charter, Cox picked out the proposed new “Ideas Service” unveiled today and which he claimed would have the power to “make this country better”.

The initiative aims to partner the BBC with leading academic, arts and science institutions such as the British Museum, the Royal Society, the Royal Shakespeare Company, leading arts festivals and galleries to curate and commission content and offer an online resource.

Describing the Ideas Service as “the largest public engagement project ever attempted” Cox added:  “The BBC is first and foremost a national institution. That means it exists to make this country better.

“It is also a media company. Arguably the world’s most recognisd and trusted media company. It is blindingly obvious that [these institutions] can transform Britain and make Britain the best place in the world to do science.

“We can make Britain the best place in the world to do science…if we work together. So I say to Government to look carefully at how you can help strengthen these institutions ….because this will help strengthen our country.

“The key is for our institutions to have the maximum possible access to the public – and the BBC has this access. If we didn’t already have the world’s finest public service broadcaster, we would need to invent it to make this work.” 

Cox also took a swipe at the Government’s new advisory panel of eight media experts – including Channel 5 chief executive Dawn Airey and former Ofcom chair Dame Colette Bowe – to help examine the BBC’s future. 

He said:  “Forget all the media speak. Forget the committee staffed by ex-media executives banging on about media landscapes and all that drivel.

“I do not believe that media experts, however excellent their track record, are the right people to make  recommendations that effect the future of our knowledge economy and therefore the future of our country. It’s too important. This goes way beyond that.”

He went on to cite “great scientists of the past” like Humphrey Davy the inventor of the electrical generator, who “invented the industrial world and place Britain at the centre.”

“These people were not hopeless romantics..and I see no reason why we can’t do this again. But it needs vision, it needs belief and to strengthen them and not to weaken them and to enable them to work together in the interests of the people of Britain.

“We can make Britain the best place in the world to do science, to do engineering, to be an entrepreneur, to create and to generate new knowledge, if we work together. I say to Government – look carefully at how you can help strengthen these institutions and help them strengthen themselves, because this will strengthen our country.” 

In his address, Tony Hall was unable to add a great deal of detail to the proposed Ideas Service, which he said will “draw together online all the great things the BBC already does that we know the audience love and cherish. From Radio 4, for instance, or BBC Four, BBC Two, Radio 3, or our iWonder guides”.

He added:  “All of these have been playing their individual parts in our broadcast and digital output, but until now we haven’t effectively brought them together to become more than the sum of their parts. This is the new opportunity, together with our partners, jointly commissioning with them.

“Because, crucially, the Ideas Service won’t just be about what the BBC does. It will be as much about our partners as about us.

“Like Stargazing Live, it will only be possible if millions of people watch, tens of thousands contribute and a huge range of UK institutions have the chance to be part of it.

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“Our new, Open BBC will act as a curator bringing the best from Britain’s great cultural institutions and thinkers to everyone. Britain has some of the greatest cultural forces in the world. We want to join with them, working alongside them, to make Britain the greatest cultural force in the world. We are extremely ambitious for this new service.”

How will proposals for “an open, more distinctive BBC” change things for you?