Why BBC Three will play a significant role in the BBC's General Election

Director, TV

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Every General Election is important, but the 2010 vote feels particularly significant for young people. It comes as Britain emerges tentatively from global recession, with youth employment a troubling trend. It coincides with an intensifying of the war in Afghanistan, where young soldiers are tragically losing their lives. And it takes place at a time when the debate over the impact of global warming is reaching crunch-point.

I have no doubt that young people are interested in politics - and the ethical issues that flow from decisions that politicians make. But it's certainly true that younger people are less likely to vote than the general population. In the last General Election, 37% of 18 to 24-year-olds voted and 48% of 25 to 34-year-olds. That's compared to an overall turnout of 61%.

There are lots of reasons for this, but the big question for me at BBC Three is - how can we help make sure young people are fully informed of the choices they have? It may mean that they make an informed decision not to vote - that's democracy - but we'll be working hard in the coming weeks to provide a range of views, and the factual information to help them decide.

BBC Three has a unique role to play in public service television. It's the only youth-focused channel with a regular commitment to news and current affairs. Aside from our General Election coverage, the channel will show documentaries in the coming months on the war in Afghanistan, child trafficking, autism, the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Congo, bullying and the life of Nelson Mandela.

No other youth-focused British channel makes programmes like these on a consistent basis. And with the channel growing 30% in the last two years, we know that young people like the ways in which we approach these subjects for being thought-provoking and stimulating.

So I'm keen for BBC Three to play a significant role in the BBC's General Election coverage - and our plans are already rolling.

Robert Peston has presented a short piece for BBC Three, reminding viewers that they need to register pretty soon in order to be able to vote in the Election. He will follow this up with another TV piece in the run-up to election day that explains the mechanics of voting and how to go about it.

Robert is very committed to reaching young people with news and current affairs and a few weeks before the election he's also going to present a TV and web special on finance for young people. Money, banks and the market are obviously major issues in the coming campaign, and we hope this will provide further useful insights for our audience.

Alongside this, BBC Three has plans for live political debate in the shape of First Time Voters' Question Time on 3 March. Chaired by Dermot O'Leary, this is an opportunity for politicians to respond directly to the concerns and questions of young people - and it's something I'm very excited about.

I'm delighted to have Dermot on board as host for this programme. He's passionate about politics, and I hope he may entice some young people to the programme who may not be naturally drawn to some of the BBC's other political coverage.

Sometimes the decision to use a 'non-specialist' presenter like this can be seen as controversial, but I don't think it really is. The key is to look across the whole of the BBC's output - and make sure that there's a wide range of approaches to suit the different ages, tastes and sensibilities of licence-fee payers.

UPDATE 5 March:

I was really delighted by how First Time Voters' Question Time went on Wednesday. It gave young people a very direct opportunity to talk to politicians, hear their policies, and challenge them on their ideas.

I thought that the questions and comments coming from our audience of First Time Voters was of a very high standard, and showed how passionate young people are about the world they live in and the future of the country.

This was also clear from the hundreds of tweets and texts we received during the programme, picking the panellists up on their ideas, and commenting on the action.

It felt like a great experiment for BBC Three, and I'm thinking about how we can build on it. Any thoughts and ideas on this from readers of this blog gratefully received!

Danny Cohen is controller of BBC Three

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