BBC and ITV Regional Television in the North of England, particularly in the North West and- to a lesser extent- in the North East of England do not seem to like covering any news on their programmes- other than that which occurs within the areas where viewers can see the respective Regional programmes. These Hard Borders (nothing to do with the island of Ireland after Brexit!) of the transmission areas for Regional broadcasting are not conducive to good news coverage for people who watch the Regional Programmes near the edge of the transmission areas.
There is, however, some limited overlap coverage provided by BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria), BBC Look North (Yorkshire), ITV Calendar (Yorkshire), ITV Tyne Tees (North East England) and ITV Border: For example BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) will cover events in southern Cumbria- which is beyond the transmission boundary for that Newcastle- based Regional broadcaster for the benefit of its viewers who live in North and West Cumbria. However BBC Look North will never cover anything on the Scottish side of the Scottish border for the benefit of its viewers who live in northern Northumberland towns like Berwick-upon-Tweed, Wooler or Otterburn or for viewers in locations in North Cumbria close to the Scottish Border like Longtown or Brampton.
The main North West Television broadcasters, BBC North West and ITV Granada really do not do coverage of anything beyond the transmission areas for their programming at all- except for a small bit of overlap north of Kendal in the case of ITV Granada (the area immediately north of Kendal receives ITV output from ITV Border). The effect is the same,- viewers in places like Kirkby Lonsdale, Milnthorpe, Grange over Sands- and indeed Millom (which also receives ITV Granada output)- are virtually ignored. Most of the news they are informed of happens over an hours’ drive south of them, they get little coverage of their district or county and they are told nothing about even quite significant happenings just half an hours’ drive to the north of them.
Taking the BBC North West Region- that is, the transmission area that receives BBC North West Regional programming there are probably of 600,000 people who live within ten miles of the perimeter of the transmission area. This includes sizeable towns like Crewe and Nantwich in Cheshire and Buxton in Derbyshire in the south of the transmission area; in the east it includes sizeable population centres like Burnley and Rochdale (Lancashire) and- in the north it includes the Cumbrian towns of Sedbergh, Ambleside, Ravenglass and Millom. This adds up to a sizeable proportion of the population in the North West (though, strictly, Buxton in Derbyshire is not in the North West of England) who cannot, under the arrangement where there are these hard borders at the edge of transmission areas get good, effective all-round coverage of their communities.
However, with over seven million viewers to cater for, most of whom live in the urban conurbations of Manchester, Merseyside, Warrington, Ellesmere Port and south Lancashire it is certain that the North West Regional Programme producers balk at any suggestion of providing any overlap coverage at all. This really is not good enough when people want a) a decent amount of coverage of local happenings within a 25 mile radius, but also want to be informed of anything really important or serious happening up to an hours’ drive (or 50 miles) away from them in any direction- whatever is the greater distance. So BBC North West Tonight is great if one lives in Warrington or Bootle (Merseyside) because much of the news will be within that 25 mile radius and- because the transmission boundary of the BBC North West Region will be at least an hour’s drive away in any direction so you would always hear of something serious happening up to 50 miles (or an hours’ drive) away! However, if one lives in Rochdale or Milnrow the area of interest for serious events extends east well into West Yorkshire and not to be informed of (say) a serious road accident with multiple fatalities near Bradford would do them a disservice. A Kendal viewer of BBC North West Tonight would want to be informed of flooding closing the M6 near Carlisle- well within an hours drive to the north and that Kendal viewer would also want at least one or two items of news about South Cumbria- i.e. local. Manchester and Merseyside output- unless they have friends and family there- is largely irrelevant to viewers in South Cumbria.
It is not impossible for Regional Television producers to both cater for their core audiences (who often live in the cities) and those at the fringes of the transmission area. As I have mentioned in recent posts, ten minutes of Sports coverage in the main evening bulletins is no longer so vital when Sports fanatics have Sky Sports and some of the big Premiership Football Clubs -like Manchester United- have their own Television Station. Trimming a minute off the Sports coverage on Regional Television will make space for a small but all- important news-report relevant to the fringes of the BBC or ITV Region. But one BBC Region like BBC North West should not have to cover such a large area over 130 miles south to north by car (and similar distance west to east if one includes the Isle of Man) with over seven million potential viewers- because a natural consequence of that is communities at the less- populated fringes will have to be disappointed.
As a rule of thumb, ten percent of all news coverage should be reserved for happenings outside the transmission area- and up to an hours drive away from the sizeable settlements just inside the transmission area. In the case of BBC North West that is not going to lead to a dilution of the North West identity of the regional output and- in fact- by covering areas that many in the north and south of the transmission area would still consider to be “North West England” like northern Cumbria, Staffordshire and northern Shropshire it could even enhance the identity of BBC North West as a provider of “North West England Regional News”. Even providing coverage as far east as Leeds need not be seen to dilute the identity of the broadcast outlet in providing news about North West England- though the rivers drain eastwards much of West Yorkshire (and indeed parts of North Yorkshire) is closer to the Irish Sea than to the North Sea and it could be argued that it is “North West England” and enhancing of regional news output: For viewers living in eastern Greater Manchester and east Lancashire including that part of West Yorkshire would enhance their sense of all- round news-coverage!
However, this overlap coverage could be prioritised in a way that is most beneficial to viewers in the north and south of the transmission Region for BBC North West and ITV Granada. North and West Cumbria is still “North West” by any geographical definition and so should account for half the overlap coverage beyond the transmission area. In the south of the transmission area, programming is potentially received by some 92,000-plus folk who live in the High Peak area of Derbyshire: It is possible that these folk consider themselves to be “North West England” because Manchester is only 25 miles to the north-west of them; however it is almost certain that these North Derbyshire folk would want other parts of their own county covered on BBC North West so (bearing in mind that south-east Derbyshire really is not in North West England at all) one quarter of the BBC North West overlap coverage should (that’s one in forty news items) should cover central and south-east Derbyshire for the benefit of viewers in the High Peak area. The remaining quarter of overlap coverage (one in forty news- items) should cover western Yorkshire Dales of North Yorkshire, west Yorkshire as far east as Bradford and- to the south northern/ central Staffordshire and Shropshire and north-east Wales.
Of the remaining 90% of news- coverage covering the transmission area, that’s nine out of ten news- items the coverage should be apportioned with minimum coverage for areas defined as follows: South Cumbria and the Isle of Man should get at least one news item out of ten news-items between them, Lancashire should get at least one news item out of ten, Cheshire and High Peak (Derbyshire) should get at least one news-item out of ten between them – with the overlap news item covering areas up to an hours’ drive beyond the transmission boundaries accounting for one news- item out of ten (half of the overlap coverage would concern news-events in northern Cumbria). Anything above that for the fringe communities is then a bonus. It is unlikely that, with this sort of framework for news-coverage in-place, the cities in the south of the English North West will end up seriously short-changed since Manchester and Merseyside (and the immediate surroundings) would still enjoy the majority of the news-coverage. Nonetheless, this is a bare minimum to improve Regional Television in the North West of England.
When the BBC and ITV produced Regional Television transmission areas in the 1950’s there was only analogue signals from transmitters and the Television Regions built up around where the programmes were easily transmitted from and to: The Television Regions so -produced did not necessarily equate with the regional affiliation and the matters of news- relevance for the viewers across these Television Regions. With the will, some of the practical difficulties could be overcome in 2020 as we have digital television signals and Post-code mapping to alter the regional news some areas receive. For the North West, the Region could legitimately be split so that two smaller- populated North West Television Regions have much greater scope to provide the right sort of overlap coverage (and more localised coverage) for viewers on the edge of the transmission areas.
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