4th September 2020: BBC North West Tonight. Any hopes of further Cumbrian news- coverage quickly dashed!

True to form BBC North West Tonight lets down it’s viewers who live north of Preston after dangling in front of them the prospect of more consistent news- coverage of Cumbria (i.e. something about Cumbria each night). The last three evenings of the week have yielded nothing about Cumbria!

At the same time BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) which is only received by viewers in northern Cumbria had a piece on a Kendal man who slashed an acquaintance with a knife fearing he would be burgled (see this news-item here: https://t.co/WNTEnV8c9G?amp=1). Yesterday, BBC Look North also carried a news-item about rare hen harriers in South Cumbria and Lancashire (more here: https://t.co/L4urlDb2lx?amp=1): Yes, you read that right, two news- items placed almost at the heart of the geographical North West of England that featured on the BBC Regional News aimed (90%) at North East viewers! Viewers in South Cumbria and Lancashire who watch BBC North West Tonight received no mention on the program of Kendal men slashing their former mates or rare hen- harriers within their respective counties.

Viewers of Regional Television living in the northern half of North West (many of whom are just a bit too far south to pick up ITV Border) need more than just two nights in a week or more during which Cumbria is covered to feel that their part of the North West is effectively being covered: Since Cumbria and North Lancashire are at least one hour’s drive from all the main centres of population

I had hopes that Owain Wyn Evans, the excellent new Weather-presenter on BBC North West Tonight, would have had the following conversations with the main news- presenter, the eloquent Roger Johnson about their more northerly viewers:

Owain: “There are some lovely people who live in the north of our Region, amongst some fine landscapes.”

Roger: “Oh, you mean Cumbria. Yes, but our patch only goes as far as Kendal, only a bit further. We cannot cover northern Cumbria because our colleagues who run BBC Look North for the North East and Cumbria might think we are muscling in on their area. Besides, we don’t have the resources.”

Owain interrupts: “Now you know that’s not true, Rog! BBC North West does not object to BBC North East/ Cumbria covering South Cumbria in their output, so why would the BBC in the North East take BBC North West to court for covering northern Cumbria?

“BBC North East and Cumbria do actually overlap to cover South Cumbria for their viewers in North and West Cumbria so that people in the Lakes feel like they are getting more all-round news coverage and so they don’t feel cut- off from other Lakeland communities in their local news! Cumbria has special characteristics, it’s beauty and it’s communities are different from those in cities like Manchester and Liverpool: You cannot get the full appreciation of Cumbria by just covering a part of it!”

Roger: “It’s just that there’s a lack of resources- and air-time. We have got to cover Manchester and Liverpool more because that’s where most people- news happens and most of our viewers live. We serve an audience of potentially seven million people and we cannot, therefore provide overlap coverage of northern Cumbria in addition to covering South Cumbria more when only 200,000 people live there!”

Owain: “What sort of excuse is that?! BBC Look North covering the North East and northern Cumbria cover Tyneside, Wearside, Teesside, much of North Yorkshire (a large county), rural County Durham and Northumberland (another large county)- and they still manage to provide some news -coverage for Cumbria. The BBC North East and Cumbria broadcast Region might have a lower number of viewers compared to BBC North West but it is a larger Region geographically. What’s more, Cumbria is part of North West England and 200,000 potential viewers in South Cumbria alone is nearly half the population of the city of Manchester. They live over an hour from where 80% of the current broadcast news happens and- in view of their unique northern location- you should make more of an effort to cover Cumbria.”

Roger: “That’s OK, Owain. I will see what we can do. I will have a chat with Michelle Mayman, our main News Editor to see if we can shave half a minute off the Sport without upsetting sports fans and trim 15 second off our fourth and fifth news items to make sure there is at least one short item for Cumbria and North Lancashire.

“I will discuss the point you make about not cutting off Cumbrian communities by having an overlap zone. We might not be able to go as far as Carlisle and the Scottish Border, but I will see what our Editor has to say about extending our coverage to the Eden Valley, the North Lakes and into West Cumbria.”

Owain: “Roger. You are a good man! I always have a place in my heart for Cumbrians- they are lovely, friendly people. And, as Cumbria is in the North West, I am so glad that you agree that we at North West Tonight should cover Cumbria more, and cover some of the unique issues that they face that are different from the cities. I am sure Annabel would agree too!”

Sadly, it is probable that no such conversation has taken place between any of the main news-presenters at BBC North West Tonight: BBC North West Tonight has higher viewing figures than other BBC programmes and so the news- presenters probably don’t think they are doing anything wrong- yet a breakdown in those viewing figures will show there is massive room for improvement. Sure, someone living in Warrington, St. Helens or Wythenshawe (near Manchester) would think it’s great- most of the news-output is very local to them! However, comparison of viewing figures for Kendal, Ambleside or Silverdale (North Lancashire) would show less enthusiasm for output that’s 85% an hour’s drive or further away, little local coverage and nothing about quite serious happenings not far to the north.

And the news- programmers at BBC North West Tonight do need to be made to have a serious conversation about Cumbria: One way to make this happen is if you write in to them directly at: nwt@bbc.co.uk.

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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