BBC North West Tonight and North West England Politics

On the night of the General Election- the evening of 12th December 2019- a telling little feature of BBC North West’s Election Night coverage for the North West was a Whiteboard display showing all the counties and the Parliamentary Constituencies in each county. What might have incensed Cumbrian viewers of BBC North West’s coverage was that “Cumbria” was listed- with a little note next to it – “Our Bit”- under which just two Parliamentary Constituencies, namely Westmorland and Lonsdale and also Barrow and Furness were actually listed. Cumbrian viewers were effectively told “You are not going to get coverage of your whole county because much of the county is not on our Patch!”

But this was not the worst- although BBC North West did show the historic result for Workington (which turned Conservative for the first time in a General Election)- they were certainly not going to discuss it. The BBC North West Political Presenter the following day gave the game away when discussing how “Workington Man” turned many Parliamentary Seats blue across the North West when she said “It [Workington] is NOT in our Region…Sorry!”. So there you go- South Cumbrian viewers were scarcely given an accurate picture of their county- that five out of the six Parliamentary Constituencies that make up the county were Conservative- held for the first time ever! And that is because of BBC North West won’t extend coverage over their transmission boundaries under any circumstances.

Now BBC North West’s transmission area does also include the small town of Millom in south-west Cumbria, which is actually in the Copeland Parliamentary Constituency. The MP for the Constituency is Trudy Harrison, a Conservative and she first gained the Seat from Labour in 2017 and also increased her majority during the December 2019 General Election. Just giving coverage of this Constituency- one which has traditionally been Labour- held for decades- would have given Cumbrians following BBC North West’s coverage an idea of the political change across Cumbria. But no- Copeland was not covered at all even though some 20,000 people who live in the south of the Constituency receive BBC North West output. This is clear from BBC North West’s white-board list of Constituencies, each of which were ticked off as the results came in: Copeland was not on that list which can only have annoyed BBC North West viewers from Millom, Corney Fell, Haverigg and Ravenglass.

The Programmers and Presenters seem to be so dismissive of one in three hundred of their viewers- that they would totally refuse to cover their Constituency in Political programmes. Why? One gets the impression that BBC North West finds Cumbria an inconvenience, that if they could palm off the southern part of Cumbria (that receives their programming) to join the BBC North East/ Cumbria Region they would rather do that than try to improve news coverage for the area. Is it because Millom and other parts of Copeland involve a two-and-a-half hour car- journey to get to from Media City (Salford Quays) where BBC North West is based? If that is so, why not liaise with BBC Radio Cumbria who can send a reporter based in Kendal in a fraction of the time?

The solution, however is not for South Cumbria to get its BBC Regional output from Newcastle, which would provide 85% North East news of even less relevance than news from Manchester and Liverpool. Such a move (with South Cumbria being hived off to BBC North East/ Cumbria) would also be catastrophic for North Lancashire viewers of BBC North West output as half of the geographical North West- including the Lake District- with which North Lancastrians have strong affinity- would presumably not then get covered at all by BBC North West Tonight. The transmission boundary would cut across communities with strong connections even worse than it does today!

This entire area of South Cumbria (including southern Copeland) is very much part of North West England and local viewers would be mortified if most of their so- called local news came from the other side of the Pennines (and even further away than the current output from conurbations lining the River Mersey). No, the solution is for BBC North West to put much greater resources into covering Cumbria- all of it- for the benefit of South Cumbrian (and North Lancastrian) viewers of BBC North West Tonight and other BBC North West output.

ITV Granada was even worse: Not even the tiniest mention of the Cumbrian Seats Turned Blue in the December 2019 General Election except for Barrow and Furness. Some parts of South Cumbria – those immediately north of Kendal can switch over to ITV Border to get much better coverage of Cumbria. Unfortunately, the poor folk of Millom did not get that opportunity as ITV Granada is the only ITV station that they can readily get. So they had a choice between BBC North West and ITV Granada- neither of which even mentioned the Copeland Constituency that they inhabit. Was this not a dereliction of public duty to those Cumbrian viewers by both the main North West Regional Television outlets that are supposed to serve the area?

Published by northwestisnorthwest

My name is Ian Pennell and I am a freelance Book-keeper: I live near Alston, in the North Pennines in north-east Cumbria. I have friends who live in northern North West England - near Lancaster (which is where I went to University and used to live until 17 years ago) and in other parts of Cumbria. I have two Website Campaigns that seek to promote more localised Regional TV coverage for large rural areas across the North of North West England and North East England. . A big problem is that the Regional Television Bulletins for the North West covers the southern third of the Region about 90% (plus a part of Derbyshire which is NOT the North West of England), covers the middle third of North West England poorly and covers the northern third of North West England not at all! When I was studying at Lancaster University, I used to watch BBC1 North West Tonight because it covered areas up around where I was brought up- in northern Cumbria as well as more immediately locally around Lancaster. Then I came home one day, turned on BBC1 North West Tonight wondering why they were silent on Cumbria and discovered why: Most of Cumbria had been chopped off the weather-map! . People living in the westernmost part of North West England (around St. Bees Head) have local BBC news on their televisions which is 90% about North East England! In rural and northern Northumberland too, Regional TV, as is received by viewers, tends too often to be Tyneside/ Wearside/ Teesside- focussed with little news locally. Communities in North Northumberland have strong links across the Border into south-east Scotland and towards Edinburgh but none of the Regional TV News- services serving Northumberland today ever goes across the Scottish Border for significant happenings of interest to North Northumbrians. I have also done walking in the area, including around the Cheviots in the past- and the Northumberland/ Scottish Borders/ East and Mid Lothian area is vast- but it is largely overlooked by mainstream Regional TV! . North Yorkshire, the largest county in England also falls in the gaps between coverage from BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria) or ITV1 News Tyne Tees in the north of the county, and the Leeds-based BBC1 and ITV1 Regional TV- services in the south of the county: North Yorkshire is a huge, yet beautiful county, which I have visited and explored in the past, yet is poorly covered in Regional TV. . Based near Alston, near the Cumbria/ Northumberland boundary I am well-placed to discuss Regional TV in all these large rural areas, in which collectively some two million folk live, yet they are poorly covered by the Regional TV News- services set up to serve them. These huge areas are an hour to two hours' drive from where I live: North Lancashire and South/ West Cumbria are to the south-west, Northumberland and the Scottish Borders and Lothian are to the north and north-east, and North Yorkshire is to the south-east of my home near Alston. I am well-placed to draw attention to deficiencies in Regional TV coverage for folk in all these areas. The North Pennines, where I live, is arguably another large area that touches on the other three where Regional TV coverage falls through the gaps completely (and that is despite the North Pennines running north to south down the middle of the BBC1 NE/ Cumbria Region). . In two websites, one for northern North West England and the Isle of Man (a country in it's own right that does not have it's own TV service!), and another Website focussing on Northumberland, North Yorkshire and the North Pennines I make the point that Regional TV that informs viewers of important things in their local area is a Public Service, funding for which should be given a higher priority (and if necessary via statute through the BBC's Charter), than funding for Soaps, Films or Sport- which are for leisure. I also give viewers the tools to fight effectively for better- and more geographic-appropriate Regional TV where they live- and to seek it through alternative (often little-known) local TV services, some of which may only be available on the Internet.

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