30th July 2021
This evening was an eye- opener: No coverage of Cumbria on BBC North West Tonight, and that’s despite the News Reporter Steven Saul (he comes from Preston) whom one might appreciate what makes good all-round local news- coverage for his Lancastrian viewers- he comes from Lancashire. The question is, has Steven Saul been leant on by BBC North West bosses not to cover the conclusion of two major trials in Cumbria- one the trial of six defendants found guilty of murdering (or facilitating the murder of) a drug- addict who was left to die in a river near Carlisle after a savage beating- on the grounds that “That is beyond our Patch. We must not cover it”? If that is so, that is not a good Public Service broadcast for viewers who live in South Cumbria and North Lancashire, who might be interested to know about something of this severity happening in northern Cumbria before being told about clouds passing by photographed on some woman’s phone from the Stockport area (as was shown this evening).
There were two news items about Lancashire on BBC North West Tonight and the Isle of Man got a mention too. ITV Granada Reports scarcely ever covers Lancashire that well and really does not cover Cumbria at all. So it is fair to say BBC North West Tonight covers those parts of North West England north of the M62 Corridor better than ITV Granada Reports, and my advice to anyone wanting better geographic-appropriate news-coverage would be that, if they live in Lancashire, Wigan, Bolton or Southport they would get more local and geographic- appropriate all-round news-coverage from BBC North West Tonight. But the northernmost news-item covered was the Lancashire Show- just north of Preston, so for all viewers living north of Preston 100% of the “local news” was south of them- mostly an hour or more travel time away!
The reports of the conclusion of this Carlisle murder trial (the defendants were sentenced to a combined total of 119 years in prison) were headline news on ITV Border Lookaround this evening (see news-item here https://www.itv.com/news/border/2021-07-30/six-people-given-life-sentences-for-the-murder-of-carlisle-man-lee-mcknight); the second major news- feature covered two car-wash owners (based in Carlisle) who were jailed for seven years between them for exploitation/ slavery offences regarding four Romanian employees. Two other news-items concerned Carlisle, and two more concerned West Cumbria. Of the other six news-items three covered the Scottish Borders and the other three concerned south-west Scotland. Cumbria is covered very well on ITV Border Lookaround. It is fairly clear that, even more serious news- events, there is a limit to how far north into Cumbria BBC North West Tonight will go (they will go as far as Keswick and the western Lake District for major happenings), but that ITV Border will guarantee very good coverage of anything of significance happening in Cumbria.
Thus, if you want good all-round local news-coverage- of Cumbria and Lancashire (and extending to the western side of the Yorkshire Dales)- that is of places within an hour’s drive/ travel-time of your home if you live in Carnforth, Milnthorpe or Morecambe- then you watch ITV Border Lookaround followed by BBC1 North West Tonight.
If you live in North Lancashire and watch ITV Granada Reports then BBC North West Tonight then that combination of local news programmes will not being you good all-round local news-coverage that is geographic-appropriate to your area: You will simply get 80% coverage of news- happenings over an hour away to the south (little of which will concern you), no more than 20% coverage of happenings within an hour’s drive to the south, but will hear nothing about happenings within an hour’s travel-time to the north. And six dangerous murderers being taken off the streets for a very long time is very significant news- and Regional News services should inform folk within an hour’s drive of the affected areas of something like this as that is part of their Public service duty to inform. The City of Carlisle, where these trials concluded for serious crimes, is less than an hour from Lancaster by train, and less than an hour’s drive up the M6 from Carnforth and Kirkby Lonsdale (both of which are in the default areas for BBC North West and ITV Granada).
There is an argument that BBC and ITV Regions cover smaller geographic areas than the Regional and Local News services in some other countries (like in Australia or Canada), therefore folk living in the north of the BBC North West and ITV1 Granada transmission areas should just “Put Up and Shut Up”. In fact, if the truth be known more local community-based stations are springing up, some of them Internet based and community based. These include, for example CFYK-DT- a regional/ local digital TV news-service for Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in Arctic North West Canada (details about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CFYK-DT). Many folk in far flung regions with one million or more folk,- where the main “Local News” service covers happenings 100 or more miles away in one direction, but little locally (and nothing just over the border nearby and in the opposite direction)- folk are collaborating and a range of new localised digital or Internet- based community TV services are springing up. “Local News” is not local or immediately relevant if it does not cover areas where people actually live and the areas folk are more likely to travel to.
The Internet-age is opening up new possibilities for more localised television, with resources for high-quality news-programming for geographical areas rather less than 3,000 square miles and with populations less than one million people. Within these areas, a combination of advertising revenues, subscriptions and even community-based cable TV services (where users pay a subscription) will soon be able to provide bespoke coverage to some where like the Isle of Man or to South Cumbria. Once that happens and folk really do discover better, more localised news- services traditional Regional TV services in North West England will no longer be able to virtually ignore yet take for granted viewers at the far-flung northern fringes of their transmission areas.
Even today, with what is available, local viewers in Carnforth, Kendal, Morecambe and Barrow-in-Furness can pick and mix much more than they could in the past. The Internet makes it possible for viewers to watch Regional TV from a neighbouring ITV Region (than the default ITV Region one on the television) and complement that with the BBC Regional News. Effectively, that’s what viewers in northern Lancashire can do much more widely than they could twenty years ago- by watching ITV Border Lookaround on their computers- to get the local news north of them- then complementing that with BBC North West Tonight to get the local news south of them.
Thirty-five years ago, viewers in northern Cumbria protested and complained when their BBC Regional News was shifted to BBC North West Tonight from Manchester. They wrote in, they complained to their MPs in their hundreds about Cumbria being in the wrong BBC Region, that news largely about just Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire was unacceptable. The BBC eventually provided an opt-out local news service just for Cumbria at lunchtimes, then when North Cumbrians were still not happy about not being in the same BBC Region as Northumberland and Newcastle (which are closer to them) the BBC finally relented- and with much fanfare- transferred northern Cumbria back to the BBC North East transmission region. Viewer and political pressure worked, and that was before the days of Internet.
Today, viewers in South Cumbria and North Lancashire can not only protest about the inappropriateness (or otherwise) of the news- coverage from the default North West Regional Television broadcasters, they can also put pressure by threatening to leave for the competition: This, as I have demonstrated can be a credible threat because ITV Border Lookaround does cover a lot of news that is of local interest to Cumbrians and North Lancastrians that they do not receive from the traditional North West Regional TV broadcast outlets. Thus, the broadcasters, who care about viewer- numbers because this is often related to their income (ITV.Plc take note that if North Lancastrians watch ITV Border News on the Internet you will not get the advertising revenues!),- they will then be under real pressure to do something about it. Steven Saul might yet regret “Going Native” (by becoming Manchester/ Liverpool- centric and diminishing his Lancastrian roots)!