Back to Basics: What Purpose is Regional Television supposed to serve?

10th January 2021

Dear Readers

First of all, a Happy new Year to all readers of this Website and viewers of Regional Television, whether you live in Cumbria, Lancashire or the Isle of Man. May this year, 2021, indeed be a much happier and enjoyable one than the year of restrictions, lockdown and fears about Coronavirus that has just ended!

In this post, I would like to get Back to Basics and to consider What, exactly is the purpose of Regional Television News for viewers in North West England, and indeed in the North East of England and in the other Regions too? What marks it out from the National and International Television News and, if local news is what one is after, why cannot BBC (and other) Local Radio stations provide an adequate local news- service? Do very local Television services like That’s Cumbria TV or Manx Telecom TV, or indeed BBC Local Radio Stations like BBC Radio Cumbria have a role if certain fundamental requirements are not being met by Television News at a Regional level?

If, in North West England, neither BBC North West nor ITV Granada News Programmers produce what they are supposed to produce for their viewers, if they are mainly smaller microcosm of National news, but not really local- and just finishing up with the Sports coverage of the big city football clubs and weather- forecast what is their purpose? If they are not fulfilling the purposes they were set up for, Regional Television News should either be reformed so that it does provide what it should, or their operations should be curtailed, and the savings made returned to Television Licence- payers.

Regional News- services are in- place to provide news- coverage that is much closer to local communities so that viewers find out what is happening in their local area and in surrounding communities that they also have strong links with, and this is why they were originally rolled out in the United Kingdom in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Regional News producers should also be understanding of how folk locally relate to each other, the issues that vex them daily and what enthuses and interests them. To that end, it is important that the Regional News- Presenters and Editors understand their audience and provide content relevant to their daily lives, their concerns, and their topics of interest (tip to Regional News Programmers, not everyone likes Sport!). The Regional News should leave viewers feeling pride in their communities and enthused by their area and places that they may visit a bit further afield.

So, do our Regional News Programmes measure up? Are they relevant? Do they provide enough local, interesting, and relevant news content? Undoubtedly, it is true that if you live in Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, or Warrington both BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports tick those boxes, since most of the news- coverage will be Greater Manchester/ Merseyside/ North Cheshire and major happenings a bit further away (still just within an hour’s drive with a clear road) will also get reported. However, even in Manchester or Warrington, the cut- off of Regional News at Kendal or just east of Rochdale/ Oldham can disappoint local viewers if they have friends or often visit nice places in the summer that are beyond the transmission boundaries: It’s a case that if you want to know what’s happening just over the border into Yorkshire or anything happening north of Kendal, then “Tough!”.

If you live further north, close to the Lancashire/Cumbria border then the Regional News- output from BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports will scarcely be local – and it will invariably be to the south of one’s community. In Lancaster, for instance, the Regional News reads more like a microcosm of national news- a shooting in South Manchester will have little (if any) more salience to local viewers than a violent stabbing in South London (unless they happen to have close friends/ family in South Manchester). Both South/ East Manchester and Liverpool together account for a considerable amount of crime-related coverage from the  North West Regional Television broadcasters because they are urban and highly populated, but they are of sufficient travel time from North Lancashire (i.e. over one hour away) that such news is not of immediate relevance and concern to the area. North Lancastrians would not, naturally choose to go to a run-down, urban area with a reputation for violent crime (unless forced to by necessity- like going to Manchester Airport): Furthermore, if such crime reports feature heavily in both ITV Granada Reports and BBC North West Tonight it will neither make North Lancastrians feel good about their Region nor particularly happy with their Regional Programming. That’s not to say viewers in the southern half of the North West of England should not be warned about violent crimes in their area or in areas nearby: They should, but when viewers further north largely get news about crime (followed by football), both relating to Manchester/ Liverpool whilst getting little/ no coverage locally that grates.  

It is fairly clear that, for viewers who live north of Preston that the North West Regional News services that they receive do not provide that news- coverage close to their communities so that they really know what is happening locally and in surrounding communities (not just those to the South). Although BBC North West Tonight does cover Lancashire well (unlike ITV Granada Reports) and will also cover South Cumbria at times, neither of the two main North West Regional News services really enthuse viewers north of Preston, or indeed on the Isle of Man, with good regular all-round local news-coverage. Neither BBC North West nor ITV Granada really touch northern Cumbria, even though their South Cumbrian viewers may need to be informed of an explosion in Coronavirus cases in the Eden Valley or the Carlisle area.

The interests and concerns of viewers in Lancashire and South Cumbria, particularly those outside of cities is not reflected in news-coverage, which they get little for their area anyway. Both the BBC and ITV in the North West seem to attach great importance to metropolitan social issues like Black Lives Matter, Gay Pride marches, Muslim and Ethnic minority concerns- to the exclusion to the more bread-and-butter concerns of the indigenous population across the provincial northern parts of North West England: Farmers in Cumbria worrying about lamb prices or a poor harvest, a young mother trying to make ends meet on a waitresses wage in Morecambe- they need to see the Regional News speaking for them, not more rage about a black man being beaten up by the Police over 3,000 miles away, or even news mainly focusing on Muslims not being able to get into their Mosques in Manchester because of Coronavirus restrictions.

The Greater Manchester/ Merseyside dominance of current affairs comes out in the Political coverage by the North West Regional News broadcasters: ITV Granada, for instance, almost never features any Members of Parliament that do not represent Greater Manchester, Merseyside, or Cheshire in their The Granada Debate programme. Indeed, I have never ever known of a Cumbrian MP appearing on The Granada Debate (nor has there ever been a The Granada Debate featuring Manx politicians!)! During the General Election of 2019 neither BBC North West nor ITV Granada even mentioned Copeland in Cumbria, despite almost 20,000 viewers in the extreme north-west of the transmission area of both BBC North West and ITV Granada living in the south of the Copeland Constituency! One of the BBC North West Election-coverage reporters at the time stated that they could not mention Workington (in a reference to “Workington Man” being the type of person Boris Johnson had to win over to win the General Election) because “It [Workington] is NOT in our Region, I’m afraid”. This, on a night of two historic wins from Labour in Cumbria that South Cumbrian viewers might wish to have been informed of!

Clearly, North West Regional Television does not serve the purposes it is supposed to for almost one million people who live in South Cumbria, northern Lancashire or indeed on the Isle of Man. Arguably, North West Regional Television not covering all of North West England also falls short for the nearly one million folk for central and South Lancashire too: For instance, a major incident or severe weather in Penrith or Carlisle will not get reported on, yet it would have salience as far south as Wigan or Preston respectively, being just an hour away by train: This is because folk from as far south as Wigan do visit central and northern Cumbria for day trips, to visit family and friends there- or even to commute to/ from work. So, what is to be done?

The answer is that if Regional News is not doing what it is supposed to and not providing a relevant local service for folk in certain communities- by not providing news about their areas and immediately surrounding areas and with topics (including political discussion) relevant to their areas, then the Regional News services in the affected areas should be replaced. The areas concerned should either be shifted into a Television Region more likely to provide more localised and relevant coverage (for example North Lancashire and South Cumbria being shifted into the ITV Border (England) transmission Region) or a completely new Television Region should be encouraged to set up and serve the affected communities: The latter solution is suitable for the Isle of Man where a local TV company already provides a Manx-only News service- Manx Telecom TV could relieve both ITV Granada and BBC North West of their responsibilities to viewers on the Isle of Man (a small nation in its own right). This is something the Manx Government could help bring about by telling both ITV Granada and BBC North West that they don’t provide a satisfactory local news- service for Manx viewers of their programming- and that local folk will be encouraged to watch Manx Telecom TV.

In the absence of OFCOM directing ITV to shift all of South Cumbria and North Lancashire into its ITV Border Region, or the Isle of Man Government effectively telling local folk to watch Manx Telecom TV whilst ordering BBC North West Tonight’s and ITV Granada Reports’ journalists to get off the island, the more likely recourse is going to rest in the hands of viewers demanding improvements to Regional News coverage in the northern North West of England and on the Isle of Man. In the first instance, viewers should write to BBC North West Tonight at the email address nwt@bbc.co.uk and to ITV Granada Reports at granada.reports@itv.com. If viewers in Lancashire, South Cumbria or on the Isle of Man do not feel they are being taken seriously they can then write a letter, not an email, to the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) at:

The Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport

100 Parliament Street

Westminster

LONDON. SW1A 2BQ

If enough people in the North West write a letter to DCMS explaining why the Regional News services that they receive are not relevant to them or their communities (and explaining why) then the North West Regional Television News- Programmers will start getting their collars felt from on high!

In addition to this, viewers in northern Lancashire, South Cumbria and on the Isle of Man then need to work out how to Vote with their Televisions, by getting their Sky Digi-boxes re-tuned (with the help of a technician if need be) so that they get ITV Border (England) rather than ITV Granada (or, on the Isle of Man, so they can get Manx Telecom TV and switch off both BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports altogether)!

Viewers in Cumbria can get That’s TV Cumbria (Sky Channel 8), but the amount of local news there is limited. Likewise, viewers in Lancashire can get That’s TV Lancashire (again Sky Channel 8), though again the amount of local news is very limited (nothing’s been put on their websites in the last month): Neither local That’s TV service is excellent quality: In any case viewers in northern Lancashire can also get Lancs Live (website address: https://www.lancs.live/ ), and hook it up to their televisions to watch the news videos with the right equipment. Either way, it is possible to find more localised television news in 2020 if you live in the northern North West of England: It’s a matter of knowing where to look.

BBC Radio Cumbria and BBC Radio Lancashire cover their respective counties very well in news- output (as would be expected), but Radio news is not something you can watch on your television, so you miss the visual impact of the news, seeing what is happening in detail and where it is happening: Listeners who are hard of hearing, often the elderly, will struggle with local radio in any case. In practical terms, it means that viewers of Regional Television who live in Lancashire and South Cumbria have little recourse but to stick with BBC North West Tonight to get the Lancashire news, preceded by ITV  Border’s Lookaround (at 6.pm on week-days)  to get the Cumbrian news- assuming that they know they can get ITV Border with a little technology and a Sky dish.

However, if viewers of North West Regional Television are prepared to switch to a different/ more local Regional Television service it is very important that they mention this in emails to BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports: Regional Television Programmers are less likely to dismiss you as just a “Moaning Minnie” if your sentiments are backed up by a threat to tune into a credible, more localised alternative should your needs not be met.

If enough viewers then start to Vote with their Tellies, at least one of ITV Granada or BBC North West will be forced to rectify their loss of viewers (because this will impact advertising revenue in the case of ITV and loss of popularity in the case of both the BBC and ITV Regional News services): They will make improvements  either by vastly improving the amount of Cumbria/ Lancashire/ Isle of Man news- coverage (perhaps with more localised opt-out programming for the north of their transmission areas and on the Isle of Man) or deciding that a completely new bespoke Television Region for Lancashire, South Cumbria, and the Isle of Man is required. The BBC does respond to pressure like this, BBC North West provided bespoke opt-out programming for Cumbria in the late 1980’s when BBC North West was transmitted right up to the Scottish Border.  

If you live in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire you could in fact really spook ITV Granada Reports’ Programmers by actually emailing ITV Border to say that you want their news-programming instead on the grounds that they already provide excellent coverage of Cumbria and you think they would cover North Lancashire well if North Lancashire was in the ITV Border (England) Region. You could then explain that ITV Granada Reports just covers Manchester and Liverpool. You could then ask them how you could watch ITV Border’s Lookaround programme easily if you live in (say) Millom or Morecambe: ITV Border can be contacted in the first instance at: btvnews@itv.com.             

Published by northwestisnorthwest

I live near Alston in north -east Cumbria (and yes, it is in North West England). I have friends who live in the middle part of North West England - near Lancaster (which is where I went to University and used to live until 14 years ago). 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! 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!!

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