A large Region of northern Britain covering southern Scotland and rural Northumberland effectively sidelined by the BBC

Viewers of Regional and Local Television in mid and North Northumberland and the Scottish Borders (including the easternmost part of East Lothian- which extends well to the east of Edinburgh) are comprehensively short- changed in the amount of localised coverage that they receive. The Scottish border- and with it the boundaries of different BBC and ITV Regions-  cuts through close- knit communities and folk who live on (say) the Northumberland side of the Scottish border don’t get to hear about significant happenings less than twenty miles away on the Scottish side of the border.

A vast area of northern Britain, of strong communities with strong cultural ties across the Scottish Border, are neglected by the BBC and ITV and good all- round coverage is further traduced by a refusal of the relevant Regional Television programmers to cover anything across on the other side of the Scottish Border. It is (also) not beyond the realms of possibility that heightened political differences between Scotland and North East England (with the Scottish National Party dominating Scotland, and North East England voting heavily for Brexit in 2016) has influenced attitudes of the relevant programme- producers in a way that effectively “hardens” the Scottish Border and makes any overlap coverage of any news cross- Border harder for them to countenance.     

But the vast area encompassing Northumberland and the Scottish Borders is not at all well- covered. A quick trawl through the Twitter feeds of Both BBC Look North (North East and Cumbria) and BBC Reporting Scotland shows just one item from mid or North Northumberland over the last week (a report about repairs to the Border Bridge over the River Tweed) and just one of the last thirty items on BBC Scotland’s Twitter feed mentions the Scottish Borders (and that was just a picture looking out to sea from North Berwick).

Indeed, this means that there is a huge area of rural Northumberland and the Scottish Borders wholly under- represented in Regional Television output. However ITV Border covers the Scottish Borders, with a Scottish version transmitted from Selkirk with about 75% southern Scotland coverage: This is extremely good given that the population of Dumfries and Galloway, south Ayrshire and the Scottish Borders (the area that ITV Border (Scotland covers) is only  just over 400,000 people (according to the 2017 Census)- but of course this coverage is spread over a massive rural area.  

So ITV Border (the Scottish version) provides excellent coverage of southern Scotland generally, with some overlap coverage to Berwick-upon-Tweed and northernmost Northumberland. However there is some news about Cumbria (not local by any definition to the Scottish Borders east of Jedburgh), locations west of Dumfries all the way across south-west Scotland to Stranraer are well over an hour’s drive (and over 50 miles’ drive) from places like Coldstream, Chirnside, St. Abbs. Head or even Jedburgh in the western Scottish Borders. So ITV Border  provides about 30% coverage of news which could be considered local to the Jedburgh and Hawick areas, but only about 20% of the Border (Scotland) output is local to those communities in the north-east- along the North Sea Coast of the Scottish Borders. ITV Border (the Scottish version) is great for Dumfries and Galloway and the western Borders, not so special for Coldstream and Chirnside in the north-east of the Scottish Borders.

On BBC Scotland, however, the Scottish Borders county is poorly served: If the BBC Scotland Twitter feed is anything to go by only one in thirty items could be considered to be about the Scottish Borders. This is confirmed by watching BBC Reporting Scotland, where a whole host of places like Kelso, Jedburgh, Hawick, Galashiels, and Coldstream rarely get any coverage (much of the news is dominated by Glasgow, Edinburgh and the politics of Nicola Sturgeon’s government).

The Northumberland side of the Scottish Border is poorly covered by ITV Tyne-Tees and BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria). As I have mentioned in a previous post (https://northwestisnorthwest.org/2020/06/28/north-east-england-is-north-east-england-and-bbc-look-north-and-itv-tyne-tees-must-cover-northumberland-more/), neither BBC Look North nor ITV Tyne Tees cover rural West and North Northumberland at all well or effectively. Berwick-upon-Tweed and northernmost Northumberland used to receive output from ITV Border (Scotland), which provided the area with much better local news- coverage and coverage of news across the border into the eastern Scottish Borders (which is of interest to people living in northernmost Northumberland, where as news about Sunderland and Durham is not).

Rural mid, northern, and western Northumberland has a population of over 200,000 people. The Scottish Borders has a population of over 115,000, and if we add the area around North Berwick (still almost 50 miles from Edinburgh and right up the coast overlooking the Firth of Forth) this vast Borders area has a population close to 130,000 people. Altogether, rural Northumberland, the Scottish Borders- and the North Berwick area in East Lothian represent a vast region of northern Britain which is home to at least 330,000 people- over 30,000 people more than that of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 2019. Can you imagine the complaints if BBC Look North only covered one news item about Newcastle in a fortnight?! Yet a vast rural area with a greater population than Newcastle upon Tyne -and a combined geographic area of over 9,200 square kilometres which is over 600 square kilometres greater than the entire area of North East England (except North Yorkshire)- is effectively ignored by the BBC (even if that is not their intention)! And this huge region, because it is split between different Television Regions, puts up a weak fight against the Programme- producers in the respective Television Regions that they are split in to.  

Northumberland does not even have a BBC Local Radio station- it has to contend with BBC Radio Newcastle (which is mainly Newcastle/ Sunderland/ Gateshead/Durham).  

There are strong ties between the Scottish Borders and Northumberland which the Scottish Border (particularly with modern political sentiment and the extent to which this affects Regional Television programmers) is made to cut through and separate. Little facts like the ancient Scottish county of Berwickshire (i.e. the county attached to Berwick-upon-Tweed), Berwick Rangers Football Club being part of the Scottish Lowland League and a town further north (and overlooking the Firth of Forth in Scotland) sharing the name of Berwick-upon-Tweed- North Berwick. The cross- Border ties are strong and are at least as old as the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland and a refusal by BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria), BBC Reporting Scotland or ITV Tyne Tees to cover anything across the Border cuts off one half of this great Border Community from the other.


How are all these issues to be rectified? Firstly, there needs to be a commitment from Regional Television broadcasters to cover the area better. For BBC Reporting Scotland (which should have separate programming for the huge remote areas of northern Scotland) a commitment to (say) 20% coverage of Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders in a new central/ southern Scotland TV Region would be a start: However rural south-west Scotland and the Scottish Borders really need a 15- minute opt-out from the main Reporting Scotland bulletins so that the Scottish Borders, as well as south-west Scotland gets anything like adequate local news- coverage. In addition, there needs to be some overlap coverage south into Northumberland and northern Cumbria so that locations near the Scottish Border (like Kelso) get good all-round local news- coverage.

For Northumberland viewers of Regional Television, ITV Tyne Tees and BBC Look North should commit to opt-out coverage of rural North and West Northumberland. This would ideally provide 15 minutes of highly localised coverage of these areas. In addition to that, there needs to be some overlap coverage of southern Scotland as far north as Edinburgh (about 10% of coverage in the opt-outs).

This would, of course, cost money but with local TV Licence- payers paying £157.50 a year (and a whole host of over- 75-year-olds being required to pay again!) surely the BBC could find the money to pay for it? Surely, the BBC’s quality of output would not suffer that much if they only paid Gary Lineker half the £1.75 million that the BBC pay him each year! Surely, too the BBC can return to the core remit of its Charter which is to provide high- quality news and current affairs’ output by cutting £120 million from it’s BBC World Service output- in order to make savings and refocus these on to Regional Television?

Part of the BBC’s Agreement between the Secretary of State for the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (currently the Right. Hon Oliver Dowden, MP) -and the BBC is the provision of local news which meets the need of all members of the Public wherever they are (Section 43 (1) a. of this Agreement here: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/about/how_we_govern/2016/agreement.pdf ) and- most importantly- Section 6 (1) of the BBC Royal Charter (here: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/about/how_we_govern/2016/charter.pdf ): The relevant part of the BBC Charter is quoted here:

From the BBC Charter (2017 to 2027): 6. The Public Purposes. The Public Purposes of the BBC are as follows. (1) To provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them: the BBC should provide duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of all parts of the United Kingdom and of the wider world. Its content should be provided to the highest editorial standards. It should offer a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers, using the highest calibre presenters and journalists, and championing freedom of expression, so that all audiences can engage fully with major local, regional, national, United Kingdom and global issues and participate in the democratic process, at all levels, as active and informed citizens.

I have highlighted the text as it is relevant to viewers of Regional Television in rural Northumberland and the Scottish Borders (which is also relevant for viewers in Cumbria and northern Lancashire who get poor BBC North West or BBC Look North output that is relevant or local). BBC Regional programmers should understand their remit fully.

If you live in Northumberland and you are not happy about the amount (or relevant) of local news coverage your first port of all is to write to:

Rozina Breen (Head of BBC North): rozina.breen@bbc.co.uk

If you live in the Scottish Borders and you are not happy about the amount (or relevance) of local news- coverage you should contact:

Peter Macrae, Deputy Head of News and Editor of Newsgathering, BBC Scotland: peter.macrae@bbc.co.uk

If you are not satisfied with the reply then the next resort should be:

The Right. Hon. Damian Collins, MP, Chairman of the Digital Culture Media and Sports Select Committee in the House of Commons. His email is: damian@damiancollins.com

Or you can contact the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport directly on: enquiries@culture.gov.uk and you can remind the BBC of its obligations to provide high- quality relevant local news coverage for all its viewers under Section 6 (1) of the BBC Charter.

You can also write a letter to the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (if you feel you are not getting through- because emails are filtered) and address it:

The Right Hon. Sir Oliver Dowden, CBE, MP, Secretary of State for the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport, House of Commons, LONDON. SW1A 0AA

Do put your name and address on any letter you send to the Right Hon. Oliver Dowden, MP and make clear that you are writing to him in his capacity as Secretary of State for the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport, not as a constituent- otherwise you might not get a real reply.

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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