There were two separate tragedies in North West England over the weekend of 20th/ 21st June 2020. The first incident was a shooting at an illegal rave in the Moss Side area of Manchester in the early hours of Sunday morning. Two men sadly lost their lives as a result of the shooting. The second tragedy was even more acute, on Sunday afternoon (Father’s Day) a 37 year old man was out walking with his 15 year-old son, twelve year-old daughter and family dog near Dalton in Furness, in South Cumbria when they were mowed down by a drunk driver who lost control of his car. The man and his children, along with the family dog, were killed at the scene. Aside from a brief report on Windermere Lake cruises re-starting as the Coronavirus Lockdown is eased, the news report on the family killed so tragically by the drunk driver was the first Cumbrian news item to appear in North West Tonight for a week. Ditto ITV Granada Reports but the Dalton in Furness family tragedy was the first Cumbrian news in over a week to feature on Granada.
The big take -away is that Cumbria only gets covered on BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports when there is news of such serious magnitude that it competes with tragedies elsewhere in the parts of the North West that are covered (and then only if its in the southern part of the county within the BBC North West and ITV Granada transmission area). Even then, one cannot help but get the impression that if something like this happened in Manchester or Liverpool it would get greater coverage. The Moss Side shooting was a tragedy, two young men lost their lives, but it got more coverage (it was also covered on Sunday) than the Father’s Day tragedy in South Cumbria.
Other items of coverage- of South Cumbria- on BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) put BBC North West in a really poor light. BBC Look North (which is not received by South Cumbrian viewers) had extensive coverage of the Dalton in Furness tragedy. The Newcastle- based BBC Regional News service also covered a woman from Barrow in Furness accused of making false allegations of rape who was remanded in custody at Preston Crown Court (Friday 19th), Lake District campers being sent home for breaking Coronavirus restrictions (20th June) and Lake District fell walkers being urged to be sensible by Lake District Mountain Rescue Teams (Monday 22nd June). I mentioned the other day about how BBC Look North covered how this woman from Kendal was so traumatised by the theft of her car that she sleep-walks (and the perpetrator was from Chorley, Lancashire). Again, despite this incident with both perpetrator and victim based well inside BBC North West’s transmission area it was reported in Newcastle-upon-Tyne based Look North’s news-programming- not in BBC North West’s news programming.
The English North West Region stretches from Cheshire to the Scottish border, yet the flagship Regional News television broadcasters don’t cover even quite serious incidents that happen deep inside North West England by any definition- that is news that is reported in the main BBC North East England Regional Television programmes!! It does not take an expert to realise that something is seriously wrong with Regional Television output for the North West- that output ignores half the Region- even if events serious enough to be warranted for coverage by neighbouring TV Regions happens. Both the Barrow- based woman accused of false allegations of rape at Preston Crown Court and the Chorley- based young man who burgled a Kendal woman stealing her car are very relevant to Lancashire viewers as well as South Cumbrian viewers- as the perpetrator who took the car lived in Chorley and the Barrow woman appeared at Preston Crown Court (likely because those who were subject to false allegations lived in, or had connections in, Lancashire). Some of the hikers clambering about on the Lakeland fells will have come from Lancashire and Greater Manchester- the Lake District is very much the northern hinterland to the more urban southern parts of North West England.
Television programmers in North West England will doubtless argue that because the transmission area is home to over seven million people they have not got the luxury of providing overlap coverage into northern Cumbria, or of providing more Cumbria-focused coverage because of their northerly location. They will doubtless argue that the BBC North East/ Cumbria Region only has three million people and so has the “luxury” of providing overlap coverage of South Cumbria for their North Cumbrian viewers- whilst conveniently forgetting that the transmission area for BBC North/ East Cumbria is also a bit larger than BBC North West’s since it covers (and transmits to) the northern two-thirds of North Yorkshire as well as North East England and northern/ central Cumbria: With the possible exception of northern Northumberland (where viewers could do with a bit of overlap into the Scottish borders to get good all-round coverage) and West Cumbria (who will still be a bit irritated by 85% North East news) the Newcastle- based BBC Regional output keeps at least ninety percent of viewers very happy.
For the North West, it is certain an additional minute or two of space could be made in the nightly broadcasts to include a news- item from Cumbria or northern Lancashire. Folk living in the more northerly parts of North West England should not have to wait until a local tragedy so great happens that it is covered on the national news. People watch the local and Regional news to find out what is happening closer to home- and both BBC North West and ITV Granada are failing to provide the coverage North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians need. For them to get good all- round coverage all of North West England must be covered- including Carlisle and the North Lake District.
This is clearly not happening. There needs to be a real shake- up of Regional Television not just in the North West of England, but elsewhere. Lunchtime, evening and weekend bulletins need to be lengthened by an extra few minutes, perhaps with less advertising of future programmes after the Regional Bulletins and with afternoon/ evening programming shunted back by a minute or two. A minute off the Sports coverage in Regional programmes won’t kill the sports fans- some major football clubs like Manchester United have their own Television Channel and there are plenty of Sports channels around in 2020! It’s not like thirty years ago when there were just four terrestial Television channels and sports fans had to eke out what they could from Regional news or from programmes like Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon! However, making an extra two minutes in the main evening bulletins (by shortening the Sports by a minute and by shortening the Programme Advertising by a minute before the seven o’clock programme) could make space for more news about Cumbria on BBC North West Tonight and news covering North Northumberland into the Scottish Borders on BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria).
That’s the minimum that needs to happen. Ideally the British Government needs to breathe heavily on the BBC to make them put more resources into Regional Television- including the creation of a new BBC Region for the more rural geographical (rather than urban Mersey-centric) North West of England and Isle of Man- and including opt-outs for Cumbria/North Lancashire and also the Isle of Man. There also needs to be new BBC Regions for North and North East Scotland (with opt-outs for the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland Isles). This could be easily incorporated into the BBC’s Charter to make it responsive to people’s requirements wherever they live- rather than fixating on Metropolitan North London-centric Ethnic/ BAME issues.