The BBC plan to make more cuts to Regional News programming in England- quite despite the fact that people rely on good local news relevant to their communities and favourite haunts. This is despite the fact that, for many rural areas in Northern England, mainly those areas north of cities, get scant mention (and can hardly be described as “The News Wherever You Are”, as the National BBC News-Anchor likes to conclude the National News). This little article about the future of BBC news should make sobering reading: https://www.societyofeditors.org/soe_news/digital-future-news-bulletins-could-disappear-from-bbc-news-at-six-and-10/
I am currently staying at a lovely establishment in the small town of Kirkby Stephen in the upper Eden Valley in Cumbria, close to the border with North Yorkshire. This area gets its BBC Regional News from Newcastle (BBC Look North) and today “The News Where You Are”, as explained by the main BBC News Presenter to the good people of Kirkby Stephen, was a news- report about Ryanair redundancies at Newcastle Airport, crime in Blyth (south-east Northumberland) and a report about Marske (east of Middlesbrough). The closest (arguably) to Kirkby Stephen was a report about farmers in North Yorkshire letting their fields to campers- though the area featured was near the North York Moors near Whitby- and a long way from Kirkby Stephen.
There was no coverage of Cumbria on BBC Look North lunchtime news today, neither was there yesterday. Viewers of BBC North West Tonight who live in the south of Cumbria also got no mention of their own county on BBC North West Tonight, a good 100,000 of these South Cumbrian viewers cannot get ITV Border and they have to contend with the even-worse ITV Granada Reports which rarely, if ever, really cover South Cumbria (and which never covers northern Cumbria).
That this state of affairs is shocking for Cumbrian viewers of Regional Television is something that I have covered in previous posts: What is more shocking, in the light of BBC Cuts and Regional Television being left solely to Market forces is the very real danger that Cumbria will lose the only good Regional News programme that they have got; that is ITV Border with their flagship news-programme Lookaround: There is a Scottish version of this Regional News programme for ITV Border’s viewers in southern Scotland, whilst (most of) Cumbria gets the bespoke Cumbrian version (which is excellent providing about 60% coverage of Cumbrian issues alone). However, parts of South Cumbria and all of northern Lancashire cannot get ITV Border, only the non- Cumbria-covering Granada! Moreover, ITV Border was amalgamated with ITV Tyne Tees for much of the last decade, so much of Cumbria received Regional output from ITV mirroring that it got from BBC Look North (i.e. being mainly about North East England in its output).
A relic of the ITV Tyne-Tees Border tie -up persists today: All of ITV Border’s programmers are based in Gateshead, in North East England and- the short bulletins at the weekend and at breakfast-time are joint ITV Tyne-Tees Border bulletins- which are, of course, mainly about Tyneside, Teesside and Wearside. The big concern has to be whether ITV will use the challenging financial environment brought on by the Coronavirus Recession to re-amalgamate its Border region with the Tyne Tees region- or worse a new ITV North consisting of the former Border, Tyne-Tees and Yorkshire ITV Regions, with southern Scotland shifted to STV. Cumbria would join northern Lancashire in one large geographical area of northern North West England getting shafted by ITV (as well as BBC) should ITV decide to mothball their Border Region.
The whole sorry situation thows up those important questions: Does Cumbria as whole and individual places in the county get Regional and Local news that can be considered effective and local? Secondly, is the Regional News received in parts of Cumbria the most appropriate for the locality. Even ITV Border, the Cumbrian version of which covers the county extremely well throw up questions of Regional affiliation and identity for parts of West Cumbria and the central Lakes- if only because of the tie-up with ITV Tyne Tees: West Cumbria and the area around Ambleside that get the ITV Border Tyne-Tees merged news at weekends are very much, by any definition, in the North West of England. This is one reason the North East- centric output from BBC Look North is not appropriate for places like Whitehaven, Egremont and Keswick. Firstly, nowhere in North East England is local to any part of West Cumbria and secondly it defies geographical fact when West Cumbria is very clearly in North West England.
This is not an argument for ITV to shift all of Cumbria into the ITV Granada Region by disbanding the Border Region (a truly ghastly prospect), nor for northern and central Cumbria to be shifted to the BBC North West Region in its current form (that was tried in the 1980’s and it did not find favour with North Cumbrians).
The solution to all these issues is for Cumbria and Lancashire to be part of a brand new BBC North West Region, with an opt-out for Cumbria and North Lancashire. This new Regional News could be transmitted from main Winter Hill transmitter, with Manchester included in the south of the transmission area. Merseyside, Cheshire and north-west Derbyshire would have their own BBC North West news transmitted from the Shoreton transmitter in Merseyside, with programming produced from studios in Liverpool.
The new BBC North West covering Cumbria, Lancashire and as far south as Manchester would also include the Isle of Man and provide a 15-minute opt-out in the main bulletins for this Crown Dependency. The opt-out for Cumbria and North Lancashire would, likewise, be 15 minutes long in the main evening bulletins, the lunchtime bulletins should be 100% opt-out coverage transmitted from transmitters at Caldbeck and at Lancaster. These measures would result in all of Cumbria and North Lancashire getting excellent local news output.
In addition, one in ten news-items in the main bulletins when all viewers in the new BBC North West should be overlap coverage covering any serious or significant events in an extended area up to an hour’s drive outside the transmission area: Thus the overlap zone for coverage of serious news-events in the new BBC North West Region would extend to Merseyside, Cheshire, NW Derbyshire and North Staffordshire to the south, as far east as a line running from Sheffield to Bradford to Darlington to Newcastle up on Tyne- and so taking in western West and South Yorkshire, the western and interior Yorkshire Dales and western Durham and Northumberland to the east. To the north the overlap zone for the new BBC North West (serving Cumbria, Lancashire, the Isle of Man and Northern Greater Manchester) would extend across southern Scotland right up to Edinburgh and Glasgow. This overlap zone would ensure that those at the periphery of the new BBC North West transmission area get to see news about events significant to them but which are outside the transmission area.
As a solution for Regional News programming for the northern two-thirds of North West England and the Isle of Man, the above would tick the right boxes. Lancashire, South Cumbria and also the Isle of Man would get much more localised coverage, with Regional output being clearly from the geographical North West of England. Viewers would also get coverage of locations that they frequent that are to the north of them, i.e. the Lake District, which is a major hinterland and tourist destination for folk living in Lancashire and Manchester.
Viewers in northern Cumbria also benefit from the special opt-out programming giving them much more local news- coverage. The overlap zone extending north-east as far as Newcastle upon Tyne, and north across southern Scotland would also satisfy those who live in the North of Cumbria who want recognition of their areas’ links towards Newcastle and the Scottish Borders, rather than Lancashire/ Manchester. The background other coverage from other places in North West England is, however, true to the geographical fact that Cumbria is in North West England. However, with the opt-out Cumbrian viewers would be getting 50% coverage of Cumbria.
The big objection to all of this is, of course, money: The cost of a new BBC Region, complete with opt-outs for the Isle of Man and for Cumbria and North Lancashire will be the order of £10 million per annum (at most). I have a suggestion for some savings- in the era of Netflix and Love-Film: Why can’t the BBC shut down between midnight and 6.am like it used to- what purpose today to broadcast trashy American soaps, talk-shows or Westerns at 3.am?? Night Owls can find plenty of other media to watch these things. Meanwhile the BBC can focus resources on providing high quality and relevant, factual news for all viewers (including those in Cumbria!) as per its Charter.