Brussels, 17 Dec 2002
Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin has called for a European approach to the production of scientific television programmes in an effort to improve the dialogue between science and society.
Addressing the science and television conference in Paris on 13 December, Mr Busquin said that the people of Europe are aware of the contribution of science to their quality of life. Research, he said, shows that the public is interested in science and technology, but that more than 60 per cent of people consider themselves badly informed of the discoveries that affect their lives.
'[...] the public can no longer ignore science,' said the Commissioner, 'and scientists can no longer allow themselves to ignore the public. In the twenty first century, the 'ivory tower' is no longer an option, not in France, and especially not in Europe. A dialogue is necessary, and in it, television has a crucial role to play.'
The Commissioner, however, identified a number of challenges to overcome before television can assume such a role. The first, he said, is mobilising scientists to use television as a tool for disseminating information: 'There are many scientists [...] who understand the stakes. But there are also many who are generally wary of the media, and of television in particular.'
Many scientists also need reassuring after having experienced the cavalier attitudes of certain sections of the media, more interested in sensationalism than scientific truth, he continued. The final challenge, he said, is convincing researchers of the importance of communicating with the public and not just their peers: 'Inform citizens of scientific advances and allow them to make the necessary choices for society.'
Such challenges, according to Mr Busquin, will only be met with a resolutely European approach to writing, producing, financing and broadcasting scientific programmes. 'A European scientific television area should, therefore, naturally be a part of the European Research Area that is currently being established,' he said.
In order to make this vision a reality, a number of actions are being planned or undertaken by researchers and policy makers in Europe. Mr Busquin said that he was delighted to see that many European universities were now training their researchers in communication techniques, as has been the case in the US for some years.
Mr Busqiun described how the Commission's science and society initiative supports writers and producers of fictional scientific programming, and how the Media Plus project's 400 million euro is helping to produce scientific documentaries of the highest quality. He also announced that a feasibility study would look into the possibility of setting up a website for the exchange of scientific images and information among Europe's researchers and television professionals.
Concluding his remarks, Mr Busquin warned that success would not come cheap, and that quality had its price: 'Only with a resolute effort and a networking of resources, talent and knowledge at a European level will such a gamble pay off. For all involved, this project will be not only a test of will, but also of imagination.'