9th December 2020
Tonight Annabel Tiffin featured a young Saxophonist from Ulverston in South Cumbria on BBC North West Tonight. Last night Roger Johnson showed the Grasmere Primary School outdoor Nativity play- with a twist and the death of Mount Everest climber, Doug Scott, who lived in the Lake District was also featured on last night’s BBC North West Tonight. Lancashire has also featured extensively in the flagship North West Regional News programme , tonight showed nurses at the Royal Preston Hospital administering the first Coronavirus vaccines.
All well and good, because ITV Granada Reports does not appear to have mentioned Cumbria for weeks: This affirms the good advice to anyone who lives in North West England, that if one lives north of an imaginary line running from Southport to Rochdale, your go-to Regional News programme for the best local and North West- flavoured coverage is BBC North West Tonight. ITV Granada is fine if you live in Merseyside, Cheshire or southern Greater Manchester, as almost all the news will be within fifty miles of your home- but if you live much north of the M62 Corridor that is not so true.
However, the truth is neither ITV Granada or BBC North West Tonight really cover the northern North West of England or the Isle of Man well: Coverage north of Preston is virtually nonexistent with ITV Granada Reports; whilst BBC North West Tonight covers Lancashire well (with two or three news- items about the county in the main evening bulletins) that is not true for Cumbria or the Isle of Man. On a good night on BBC North West Tonight there will be one or even two news- features covering (mainly South) Cumbria, very rarely there will be a news- feature concerning North or West Cumbria- but there can also be periods of up to one week without any Cumbrian coverage at all. The same holds true for the Isle of Man, which has had no coverage on the last few nights on either BBC North West Tonight or ITV Granada.
Now, the ideal North West Regional News service will be different for communities dependent on where they are in the North West: Folk living in Ellesmere Port, in north west Cheshire would be happy with more coverage of Merseyside and Cheshire, and they would like a bit of coverage of North Wales (much of which is within an hour of where they live). Further north, Prestonians would want much more coverage of Lancashire but less Manchester or Liverpool news and they would expect some coverage of significant happenings further north in Cumbria. Further north again, folk who live in Millom- in south west Cumbria (I pick Millom because they can still only receive ITV Granada as well as BBC North West Tonight there) would have a very different ideal for North West Regional Television coverage- one that is at least 50% about Cumbria (including northern and West Cumbria), some coverage of Lancashire and the Isle of Man but less coverage of Manchester or Merseyside- with (ideally) no coverage of anywhere south of the River Mersey.
As one travels up the M6 Motorway from Cheshire, through Greater Manchester, Lancashire and northwards into Cumbria one passes communities where folk’s Sphere of Interest about what happens extends northwards whilst the southern limit to that Sphere of Interest also retreats northwards. Neither BBC North West Tonight nor ITV Granada adequately take into account- in their bulletins- this change in the Sphere of Interest (those areas considered to be “Local” to a particular area) for all parts of their transmission areas. To some extent, they cannot do that by themselves because of limited air-time, but (by collaborating) they could avoid much duplication of coverage of the urban south of North West England whilst providing at least one North West Regional News service that ensures folk living in the extreme south and north of the Region (and on the Isle of Man) do have at least one news- service that provides good all- round coverage.
There are, for instance, people who live in parts of South Cumbria and in North Lancashire who either cannot get ITV Border (English version- it covers Cumbria very well), can only get it with difficulty or who do not know that they could get it (nor who know that ITV Border’s Lookaround programme covers areas not far north of their community extremely well). These folk would want to be informed about any really significant happenings as far north as the Scottish Border (i.e. within an hour by car on on the train), they also want to know about day-to-day happenings that are mainly within half an hour’s travel time rather than further afield.
Thus, for someone who lives in Milnthorpe or Kirkby Lonsdale, in South Cumbria (both towns naturally pick up ITV Granada and BBC North West), they really want their Regional Television screens to cover the South Lakes, the upper Lune Valley and North Lancashire with news of major happenings from a bit further afield (including Carlisle and northern Cumbria, the western Yorkshire Dales and as far south as Manchester). That is, ideally, they get mostly Immediate Local news (within a 30 minute drive) plus some Regionally Local news (up to an hour away by car on by train). These areas make up their geographical Sphere of Interest, and anywhere outside it they care not two hoots about!
Of course, limited resources mean that it is not possible to provide every town and rural community in Britain with a Regional News service that is 80% about places that are within a 30 minute drive of their home and a Regional area accounting for 20% coverage of more serious further-afield news within an hour’s drive of their home in any direction. However, if the collective resources of BBC and ITV Regional News could be utilised in a way that reduces duplication and provides all places with at least one news- service with 20% Immediate Local news and 10% overlap beyond transmission boundaries that would represent a huge improvement.
BBC North West Tonight, of course, does not really do overlap beyond its northern transmission boundary. Although it’s coverage clearly extends thirty miles further north than ITV Granada Reports, there is room for improvement so that its viewers in towns like Millom, Sedbergh and Ambleside feel that the news that matters to them is covered- and covered well. There has been some quite serious happenings in northern Cumbria over the last week- a woman was sexually assaulted in Carlisle and the new Coronavirus vaccine is being administered at the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven: Vulnerable South Cumbrians, those who live anywhere up the coast from Barrow-in-Furness, need to know that Whitehaven is where they must go to get a jab. But neither BBC North West Tonight nor ITV Granada Reports want to even mention Whitehaven because it is beyond their transmission area.
Tellingly, both BBC North West and ITV Granada Reports state “There are seven centres in the North West administering the new Coronavirus vaccine”: No there is not, there is eight, because Whitehaven is omitted. It really is not acceptable to risk the lives of Coronavirus- vulnerable south west Cumbrians- in order to carefully protect a policy of “Not Going Beyond our Patch”!
Who are the Programmers at BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports scared of? Is Granada Reports’ Presenter Lucy Meacock scared of Pam Royle of ITV Border chasing her shouting “STAY OFF ITV BORDER’S PATCH!”. Maybe Roger Johnson and Annabel Tiffin are likewise scared of being chased away by BBC Look North’s Carol Malia! They need to keep a sense of proportion- the other week BBC North West Tonight had Mark McAlindon (who usually provides reports about Cumbria for BBC Look North) reporting on trees being planted on wetlands near Penrith- well north of BBC North West’s “Patch”: Mark McAlindon did not conclude his report for North West Tonight by shouting “And STAY OFF OUR PATCH!”.
Regional News reporters need to remember, first and foremost, that they must be relevant to all their viewers, even those who live in South Cumbria: The BBC, in particular, is a Public broadcasting service and viewers who live in Cumbria and North Lancashire expect to be informed about developments that directly impact on their lives- particularly with regards to the closest place to obtain a vaccine to protect against a potentially- lethal virus!
In the meantime, not only do I advise all viewers of Regional Television who live north of the M62 to watch BBC North West Tonight but, for anyone who is stuck with either BBC North West Tonight or ITV Granada Reports who lives north of Preston, I would advise you to do what you can to get ITV Border. This is easier for those who have satellite television or Freeview, if you don’t have it you can get it installed. Then you can watch ITV1 Border’s “Lookaround” at 6.pm to get the local news north of where you live, then BBC North West Tonight to get local/ south of area news-coverage. If you live on the Isle of Man there is an excellent low-cost Local News option called Manx Telecom TV (details here: https://www.manx.net/tv): That really is the only good option for Manx viewers to get good local news- coverage of their small country.