Granada Reports is ITV’s flagship Regional News programme covering North West England and the Isle of Man. For sure the news-reports are undoubtedly popular in Manchester, Liverpool and other conurbations along the River Mersey (where over 60% of the news reported is within a 30-mile radius of such locations) and viewers there warm to Lucy Meacock, the articulate main news- presenter. However, enthusiasm for the programme (where it is watched) will be wearing a bit thin in areas north of Preston and- indeed- on the Isle of Man.
There are viewers in South Cumbria, particularly the elderly without access to digital media and who still rely on their traditional box- sets to find out what is going on locally, who have a choice between ITV Granada Reports or BBC North West Tonight: They are just a bit too far south to get a clear picture of ITV Border (which has excellent coverage of Cumbria), and that’s if they pick up the signal at all. It is, of course, true that they can receive BBC Radio Cumbria- which does provide county-wide news- coverage but it does not provide any colour pictures where you can actually see the footage being reported- and get a feel for what is happening!
Viewers in towns and villages such as Millom, Haverigg, Ireleth, Duddon Bridge, Cartmel, Grange- over-Sands and Kirkby Lonsdale all have this issue, so too do viewers in North Lancashire in towns and villages like Carnforth, Morecambe, Hornby, Caton, Forton, Galgate, Garstang, Catterall, Pilling and Fleetwood and (of course) the city of Lancaster itself: All of these areas have strong local connections with the Lake District where many will go for days out- but such North Lancastrians never get to hear about significant happenings just to the north of them and they receive little coverage locally.
Things are little better on BBC North West Tonight, though at least they make some effort to cover Cumbria a bit more (nowhere near enough, mind). But it is ITV, Britain’s main Independent Television company that needs to take care of it’s viewers of Regional Television in the North West who should be concerned: There is a real risk of viewers switching channel or switching off altogether if they do not get news- coverage that they consider local or of interest to them.
The situation is actually quite shocking: There’s been about 90% coverage of the southern third of North West England- i.e. Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire over the last fortnight; the Isle of Man and Lancashire have had 10% coverage between them and Cumbria has had nothing in terms of coverage. Cumbria has NOT even featured ONCE on ITV’s Granada Reports for over a week!
I am sure that ITV’s Regional News programmers based at Media City, on Salford Quays, would assert that they cannot possibly cover Cumbria in output because most of Cumbria get’s ITV Border and that they cannot provide special overlap coverage for the 100,000 Cumbrians who receive ITV Granada when there are seven million potential viewers in the transmission area. That, too is an unacceptable attitude: It’s unacceptable because Cumbria and North Lancashire are, by virtue of their position in the North West of England and the big geographical area they cover poorly- covered with most folk there getting little local coverage. In and near Manchester, Warrington, Ellesmere Port and Liverpool the high population (and compactness of these urban areas compared to each other) guarantees good local coverage.
Thus, one of two things must happen in ITV to rectify the situation for North Lancashire, South Cumbria and the Isle of Man: The first one would be the best because it recognises that North Lancashire and South Cumbria are still loosely affiliated with more urban parts of the North West to the south. People living in Lancaster will, on occasion, take the train to Manchester for major shopping trips (such as just before Christmas) or to go to the airport when going abroad. However, North Lancashire has strong links with Cumbria, especially South Cumbria and that needs to be recognised in Regional News. To that end, ITV Granada would shorten the sports- coverage by a minute (this won’t kill sports fans who have ample viewing opportunities elsewhere) and clip ten seconds off the middle three news-items, so as to make room for at least one short news item about Cumbria (and not just the bit within ITV Granada’s transmission area) and another about the Isle of Man every night of the week. However, the better form of this solution would be for ITV Granada to provide an opt-out of 15 minutes in the main programme (and a full opt-out at lunch-times and weekends) like the neighbouring ITV Regions Yorkshire and Border do for the north of their areas. This would give South Cumbria, North Lancashire and the Isle of Man much more localised tailored news- programming with a news- presenter based in (say) Lancaster feeling much less constrained by the need to satisfy viewers in the south of the Region.
The other major option, if ITV does not feel it has the financial resources to provide an opt-out for the north of it’s Granada Region- would be for all of South Cumbria, northern Lancashire and the Isle of Man to switch to ITV Border, which already provides a highly localised tailored news- service for Cumbria (southern Scotland get separate programming on ITV Border Scotland): This is an eminently sensible suggestion if programmers at ITV Granada cannot (or won’t) cover all of North West England (as they apparently advertise). In view of North Lancastrians’ strong links to the Lake District this is not a crazy solution to the impasse, especially as the North Lancashire/ South Cumbria/ Isle of Man areas- with a population just over 500,000- will be leaving an ITV Region of seven million and joining one which would have a population of just over one million- once these areas have joined ITV Border.
The small matter that remains with the second option for improving Regional news for all South Cumbria, northern Lancashire and the Isle of Man is that the Programmers at ITV Border might object, fearing North Lancashire and the Isle of Man joining could lead to “dilution” of local coverage for their Cumbrian viewers. However, that is plainly not true: ITV Border already provides news- coverage of all of South Cumbria (even those bits south into the Granada Region) and until just over ten years ago ITV Border broadcast to (and covered) the Isle of Man. The addition of the northern half of Lancashire- roughly north of a line from Blackpool to Burnley- would not dilute Cumbrian coverage at all if ITV Border restricted the amount of Scottish news on the Cumbria/North Lancashire version of their programme to about 20%. Viewers in northern Cumbria would be fine with 20% overlap into southern Scotland whilst viewers in the Lakes would appreciate the coverage into northern Lancashire (to which many have strong regional ties).
Viewers on the Isle of Man must rue their decision to decide to join the ITV Granada Region in 2009, having made the decision (following a national vote) because of concerns about getting news mainly about North East England: They made that decision following ITV Border’s temporary amalgamation with ITV Tyne Tees! However, viewers on the Isle of Man would plainly get much more coverage of the Crown Dependency if they were moved back to an ITV Region with just a seventh of the potential viewer-population compared to the the ITV Region (which just doesn’t do opt-outs!) that they are now part of!