25th Sept. 2020: My E-mail to ITV Granada Reports about their absence of Cumbrian coverage

Dear Readers

One of North West England’s flagship Regional News programmes, ITV Granada Reports has not covered anything from Cumbria in three weeks. I have decided to put keyboard to email because this is shocking for folk who live in more northerly parts of North West England- since they are not really getting any local news. This is what I wrote:

TO: granada.reports@itv.com

FROM: iapennell@yahoo.co.uk

24th September 2020


Dear News Editors, ITV Granada Reports

Hello, my name is Ian Pennell and I am a 51-year old Book-keeper who lives near Alston, in Cumbria. I want to point out that, although your programme is excellent and you have all your news- features on a well up- to- date Website that it does not appear that you cover the North West of England fully. However, can I first say that your coverage during the Coronavirus outbreak (and concerning attendant lockdowns both local and national) has been very sympathetic as has the coverage of the inquest concerning the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017. Certainly, for folk who live in Manchester, Liverpool, Warrington and indeed South Lancashire they have a news- programme worthy of the highest praise.

However, I used to live in Lancaster and sometimes I watched Granada Reports (it used to be Granada Tonight) in order to get coverage of what was going on in the area (often very little). I was also born and bred in the northeast of Cumbria and thus hoped to see coverage of happenings a bit further north- alas, very little, if any mention of Cumbria. Since 2006, I have moved back to northeast Cumbria, well north of your “Patch” but note that if I want to see coverage of Cumbria on ITV only ITV Border has it.

Now, as I understand it, your programme is broadcast to much (but not all) of South Cumbria and your transmission area actually extends northwest as far as Millom, which is in the Copeland District of West Cumbria. Certainly for older folk who don’t have a computer or others who cannot get reliable broadband, ITV Border is not accessible in those areas of South Cumbria under your transmission coverage. Likewise, many homes in North Lancashire, where folk still have strong links with Cumbria (and travel to the Lakes or even as far as Carlisle on a day out), cannot get ITV Border: I myself tried to get ITV Border on the television when I lived in Lancaster, and all you could get was a grainy black and white picture!

As such, the only choice for Regional Television for viewers in northern Lancashire and (most of) South Cumbria is either BBC North West Tonight (which, again, is excellent for viewers in Manchester, Merseyside and South Lancashire) or your programme ITV Granada Reports, neither of which really cover Cumbria in output and, actually, there is very little coverage north of Preston altogether. It’s a bit of a Hobson’s Choice! Political coverage is likewise slanted to the urban south of North West England, your Granada Debate Programme (which I have watched) invariably features politicians from Greater Manchester and Merseyside, seldom (if ever) from Cumbria or northern Lancashire. 

The virtual non-coverage of Cumbria was exemplified during last December’s General Election coverage when both ITV Granada and BBC North West failed to show (or make any mention) of the Copeland Constituency in West Cumbria or make any mention of the Conservative MP, Trudy Harrison, gaining a much-increased majority: This is despite the fact that 10,000 potential viewers of ITV Granada and BBC North West who live in Millom, Haverigg, Duddon Bridge and Corney Fell who live in the south of the Copeland Constituency.

Cumbria is not only very much part of the English North West, and so are your viewers who live in the south of Cumbria who cannot get any better alternative local news from their television. Why should they not be able to get news from across their county from a Regional news programme that advertises itself as covering North West England (most folk understand that to mean “News from across all of the North West”)? The North West Region stretches from Cheshire to the Scottish Border but viewers of ITV Granada Reports only ever get half the Region. Whilst there is also BBC Radio Cumbria that they could tune into, getting news off the radio, without the live pictures to provide a real sense of what is going on, it is really not the same thing.

You seem very reluctant to cover anything north of the transmission boundary leaves your viewers who live in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire with the impression that you only cover half of North West England, especially since even those areas that are in the north of your transmission area get very little coverage compared to places further south. This leaves viewers in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire with the strong impression that their communities are overlooked, that you don’t cover their county (true for Cumbrian viewers); that even quite serious events in places not far to the north (places that they frequent) won’t get covered. An overlap zone for news, for your more northerly viewers would go some way towards addressing these issues: You could pool resources with ITV Border (England) given the financial climate and get Cumbrian news that could be broadcast in both ITV Granada and ITV Border news- programmes.

I understand the difficulty of making air-time when you have to keep everyone in a large geographical area happy. However, by trimming just half a minute off the Sports coverage (die-hard Manchester United football fans have their own TV station, so it will not hurt them) and ten seconds off (say) the middle three news items you free up a minute to provide at least one short news- item about Cumbria and North Lancashire in each of the nightly bulletins. Then make a commitment to minimise some of the banter before the weather-forecast by ten seconds (without harming the positive friendly impact of the news-presenters), trim just 20 seconds more off the Sport and trim the “chatty bits” between news-programmes just a fraction to make room for another short news-item each night covering Cumbria/ North Lancashire. Alternatively you could end up with one two-minute news-item about Cumbria/North Lancashire in lieu of the two short ones on some nights: All this would go a very long way towards ensuring that your more northerly viewers get coverage about their communities and their concerns without minimising news-coverage of Manchester, Merseyside or Cheshire. 

However, South Cumbria, northern Lancashire and the Isle of Man would greatly benefit from a 15 minute opt-out in the main programming (like ITV Border does for their viewers in southern Scotland) so that viewers in places like Fleetwood, Blackpool, Lancaster, Barrow in Furness and Millom get much more tailored local coverage because, at present, if 90% of the news is from locations over an hour’s drive to the south of them it can scarcely be called “Local News”. I understand that opt-outs cost money which, a privately-run organisation like ITV, will be struggling to get via advertising revenue in these difficult times.

I have lived in Lancaster for 15 years and lived in (and visited different parts of) Cumbria during the remaining years. I also regularly visited South Cumbria and the Lakes when I lived in Lancaster, a city which (if I may say so) has strong cross-boundary links with Cumbria. This vast area north of Preston comprises a whole range of different vibrant communities sufficiently distant from Manchester and Liverpool to really need a more locally- tailored news-service which deals with their concerns.

However, if you really don’t think you can make any adjustments to your news-programming to accommodate more coverage for your viewers who live more than an hour’s travel time to the north of Manchester then it is possible that the entire area north of a line from Blackpool to Burnley would be better- served as part of the ITV Border Region. ITV Border (England) covers Cumbria extremely well (and overlaps to cover all of South Cumbria for the benefit of their Cumbrian viewers): The English version of ITV Border would also cover northern Lancashire extremely well (since northern Lancashire would leave an ITV Region with a population of seven million to join an ITV sub-Region with tailored localised output which, including them, would provide a news-service for potentially no more than one million viewers). North Lancastrians would lose coverage of Manchester and Liverpool which, to be fair, is not especially local to them; however North Lancastrians would gain lots of coverage of Cumbria (with which they have strong links). Those who wanted to stick with Manchester/ Liverpool flavoured news could still switch over to BBC North West Tonight, but those who wanted to know what was going on to the north of them and have more localised coverage would have a real alternative.

The added positive from moving South Cumbria and northern Lancashire to the ITV Border Region is that, by increasing the population of the ITV Border transmission area, it provides the ITV Border Region with just the critical mass (population 1.5 million) to fully see off any threat to its future like that which occurred with the Tyne-Tees tie-up in 2009. If the Coronavirus Recession does lead to ITV Border being mothballed it would be disastrous for all Cumbrian viewers, not just those in South Cumbria who may (or may not actually be able to see ITV Border). Sure, there will be one-off costs (like tweaking the Lancaster relay- transmitter to receive ITV Border) but that would be cheaper to ITV than you at ITV Granada having to provide a special opt-out for northern Lancashire and South Cumbria. The downside, of course, is that you would lose the north of your transmission area to ITV Border (England), but if you cannot serve these viewers with local news very well and a neighbouring ITV Region could do a better job then that has to be an option.

I have suggested three possible solutions, which you could discuss the merits of: However something still has to be done about the amount of news that folk in more northern parts of North West England actually get about their communities- I know quite a few such folk and their take on the Regional News for the North West is not very positive. Even Tim Farron, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale (much of his Constituency gets ITV Granada and BBC North West output) has remarked on the lack of local coverage with the Regional news being heavily dominated by Manchester and Liverpool (see here: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0029/117659/Tim-Farron-MP.pdf). He has mentioned this in discussions about local radio broadcasting. The fact remains, and I trust you understand this point, people who live in towns such as Millom, Ulverston, Morecambe, Carnforth and Grange-over-Sands need a better Regional Television news- service than one in which only 10% of the news is of places within an hour’s drive night after night (and when often there’s no news within that travel time). Fully 100,000 of your potential viewers live in South Cumbria and a further 500,000 live in northern Lancashire- they surely deserve better.

My apologies for such a long email. This is quite a serious public- service issue but rather than just make a complaint I wanted to offer some solutions as to how the problems could be rectified. 

Kindest Regards

Ian Pennell

If you live in South Cumbria or northern Lancashire, you can also email Granada Reports Programmers at granada.reports@itv.com with your suggestions as to how they should improve Regional Television coverage.

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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