24th July 2021
Over this weekend ITV Granada reported that there were seven death due to youngsters and men drowning whilst swimming in rivers and in the sea in North West England (see here for report: https://www.itv.com/news/granada/2021-07-21/safety-plea-to-heatwave-swimmers-after-teenagers-die-in-the-water) then that a 19 year-old man from Preston, who drowned on the Lancashire coast became the eighth person to drown in the last few days (see here: https://www.itv.com/news/granada/2021-07-24/19-year-old-man-dies-after-getting-into-difficulty-in-the-sea-at-st-annes). Of the other seven deaths referred to- related to youngsters swimming in the recent heatwave- one was a young man who drowned near Fleetwood, another at Crosby beach, Merseyside, two 16 year-olds had drowned in Cheshire, a 19 year-old had drowned at Salford Quays and last Sunday, a man drowned at Dove Holes, near Buxton (in Derbyshire). This was a spate of tragedies that has caused grief for the families of those who died.
However, three more families were also touched by tragedy due to young men drowning in North West England that ITV1 Granada Reports did not report on because these happened in Cumbria beyond it’s transmission area. The body of a man in his thirties who went missing last week after being seen to get into difficulty has just been discovered in Crummock Water in the Lake District (more on this here: https://www.itv.com/news/border/2021-07-24/body-discovered-following-search-in-crummock-water-in-the-lake-district). On Thursday the body of another man in his thirties was found at Brothers Water, also in the Lake District whilst last Sunday, the body of a 16 year-old boy was found in the River Eden in Carlisle (more on these here: https://www.itv.com/news/border/2021-07-23/three-fatal-incidents-in-cumbrian-waters-in-eight-days). At least BBC1 North West Tonight covered the two Lake District drownings in their coverage, even though their coverage of Cumbria is, generally, not excellent.
Now, ITV1 Granada Reports is the default ITV1 Regional News programme serving everywhere from the Peak District and Crewe right up to Kendal and along the SW Cumbrian coast as far as Millom. ITV1 Granada also advertises as “Covering the North West and the Isle of Man”: So how do folk living in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire feel about being told that there were eight deaths in the Region when they later discover (as they inevitably would) that there were deaths due to drowning in Cumbria but that these were not amongst the eight considered by ITV1 Granada Reports? Particularly, if you live in South Cumbria or North Lancashire your understanding of North West England is everywhere west of the Pennines between the Midlands and Wales in the south and Scotland in the north- and that includes Cumbria: So if ITV1 Granada Reports advertise as “Covering the North West” you would understand that as covering all of North West England, not excluding the northern half of it? That their regional statistics relating to tragedies would not exclude half the North West Region in collating information.
In fact, if you are one of the 100,000 South Cumbrian inhabitants who are by default in the ITV1 Granada transmission area it would be quite legitimate to be quite affronted at your Regional TV service excluding your own county- arguably the one that has suffered more young men losing their lives through being unable to swim and/ or being inexperienced with water than other parts of North West England. The rigid “We don’t cover Cumbria Because Most of Cumbria Is Beyond our Patch” needs flexing a bit- and it can end up upsetting a significant number of viewers who live north of Preston!
ITV.Plc as Britain’s main Independent TV company that also provides Regional Television actually needs to do a complete reappraisal of whether certain parts of the UK are in the right ITV Region, or indeed whether resources need to be put into opt-outs so that quite sizeable areas with significant populations get much more local and geographic-appropriate all-round local news-coverage. Viewers in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire are not too concerned about deaths from drowning in Derbyshire and Cheshire, but they will want to know if this has happened in the Lake District or even as far north as Carlisle.
For viewers in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire ITV.Plc itself needs to do one of three things- whichever it finds most palatable (cost-wise) and which ruffles fewest feathers:
- ITV1 Granada is made to provide opt-out programming to serve northern Lancashire, South Cumbria and indeed the Isle of Man. This would include tailored lunchtime bulletins and 15 minutes after the headline news within ITV1 Granada Reports. This would cost money, but in the long-term it might pay for itself with higher viewing figures for areas north of Preston and- in turn- increased advertising revenues.
- Lancashire, South Cumbria and the Isle of Man are completely split off from the ITV1 Granada transmission area to form a new ITV1 North West providing complete tailored programming for this area with 10% overlap coverage south to Cheshire and 10% overlap coverage north to the Scottish Border. The Isle of Man would get a quota of 20% of all news- coverage as befitting its small nation status! This would cost £5 million annually, but higher viewer figures will lead to much of this cost being offset- as would the reduced travel costs for reporters in a smaller ITV1 Granada area just dedicated to Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire and north-west Derbyshire- and even north east Wales.
- South Cumbria, northern Lancashire and the Isle of Man are transferred to the ITV1 Border Region where ITV1 Border (Scotland) resumes 15 minutes opt-out programming for southern Scotland and northern Northumberland (which should also be returned to ITV1 Border (Scotland)). This would leave ITV1 Border (England) to maintain strong coverage of Cumbria, northern Lancashire, western Northumberland and the Isle of Man. This would, in aggregate, be the cheapest option even allowing for the one-time cost of tweaking transmitters around Lancaster, on the Isle of Man and near Berwick-upon-Tweed as the opt-out infrastructure already exists for southern Scotland (the localised programming, originally for the Scottish Borders only, used to be called the Selkirk opt-out). The cost of the opt-out news-programming for southern Scotland and northern Northumberland would, perhaps, be £1 million annually (cost of a couple of reporters and the re-vamped old Selkirk studio) as the news-gathering would not be much more than nowadays and this would be partly offset by ITV1 Granada not having to send reporters north of Preston. Greater viewing figures from northern Lancashire, South Cumbria, the Isle of Man- and indeed northern Northumberland- would quickly lead to advertising revenues offsetting the costs.
However, the likelihood of ITV.Plc, or indeed any of its ITV1 Regional programmers deciding to change/ accommodate areas of northern North West England and the Isle of Man by providing opt-outs, providing new ITV1 Regions or moving areas to another ITV1 Region so that certain locations get better local and geographic- appropriate Regional television news- coverage without outside intervention is for the birds. ITV.Plc is, first and foremost, a commercial organisation which has a major focus on making a profit for its shareholders: Good, relevant news- provision and providing such a good Public Service costs money- and it will only do it if it is in its financial interests. Indeed, it is fair to say that were it not for OFCOM and irate local MPs getting OFCOM to put pressure on ITV.Plc -that its ITV1 Border Region (far less the separate southern Scotland programming with programmes like Representing Border and Border Life) would not exist today. Northern and central Cumbria would be getting ITV1 Tyne Tees Border with 80% coverage of North East England!
Only the threat of fines, loss of revenue, loss of Public Service Broadcast (PSB) licences allowing it to provide a service in the affected ITV1 Regions makes ITV.Plc do anything that does not make it lots of profit in the short term. Usually this means people- pressure, pressure from OFCOM and- failing that- the real threat of outside competition or people simply switching off the Regional News as irrelevant.
Thus viewers in the North West who want better and more geographic- appropriate Regional News- coverage need to write in, first to ITV1 Granada then to OFCOM and the local MP when the reply from ITV1 Granada programmers indicates nothing much will be done.
This is then followed up with the promise to seek alternative sources for local and Regional News coverage- to switch over to BBC1 North West Tonight (which I would advise for anyone living north of the M62 Corridor), also to do everything possible to try and watch ITV1 Border Lookaround if you live north of Preston (so you get news locally from north of you rather than always some way south of you- ITV1 Border has some 50% or more of its coverage devoted to Cumbria- including near the Lancashire border): Doing everything possible to get ITV1 Border includes getting a Sky TV subscription and putting a Windermere Post-code in the Sky Digibox if you cannot get the direct signal to your aerial that carries ITV1 Border from normal TV signals, or just watching it from the ITV1 Border website on your computer if you have Internet (i.e., here: https://www.itv.com/news/border/2021-06-14/catch-up-watch-the-itv-news-border-evening-programme). On the Isle of Man viewers should threaten to stick with You-tube based Isle of Man TV (link here: https://www.youtube.com/c/IsleofManTV), unless ITV1 Granada and BBC1 North West improve coverage of the Isle of Man.
The beautiful thing about using the Internet to watch ITV1 Border is that ITV.Plc will be presented with a drop in their overall viewing figures in their ITV1 Granada Region but with no increase in the ITV1 Border Region because advertisers like to advertise on the TV to get the best chance of getting exposure to their adverts. If folk have to view ITV Regional News from a website advertisers are not so interested in those viewers: It means ITV.Plc as a whole would lose money- the only thing likely to motivate them to do anything significant!
Were ITV.Plc to react pettily to North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians watching ITV1 Border’s Lookaround online- by pulling the Regional News -programmes from the Internet then you, a viewer in northern North West England, would have a very strong case to write to OFCOM to complain that ITV.Plc are actually trying to stop you watching the Regional News most relevant to you- something that if just a few viewers complained of this happening (and demonstrated was happening) would result in OFCOM coming down on ITV.Plc like a ton of lead! ITV.Plc would be strongly encouraged to resume making all their ITV1 Regional Programming easily available online once more!
If you plan to switch channels to get more geographic- appropriate news-coverage let ITV1 Granada and BBC1 North West know (even BBC North West struggle to cover Cumbria at times). Complaints followed by a promise to find of a viable alternative will be more likely to lead to a rethink in their Media City offices at Salford Quays than just complaining and leaving it at that. Tell them that you will write to OFCOM, that you will write to your MP about poor or geographically- inappropriate local coverage too. Details of who to write to and who your MP is can be found here (https://northwestisnorthwest.org/important-contacts-to-write-to-about-regional-television/).
Above all, get your friends to write to ITV1 Granada Reports, BBC1 North West Tonight, and then OFCOM if their concerns are not answered satisfactorily. Why should the good folk of Lancaster, Morecambe, Fleetwood, Barrow-in-Furness and Millom put up with a news- service that effectively ignores their area in lieu of cities further south whilst taking their loyalty as viewers for granted? Regional News producers should also be disabused of their notion that the geographical sphere of interest stops near the Lancashire/ Cumbria border, and made to realise that North Lancastrians understanding of North West England does not stop at Kendal, that it includes Cumbria and thus the county should be included in both coverage and regional statistics (even if two-thirds of Cumbria is beyond the transmission area): For this to happen local viewers of North West Regional Television must find their voices: Rise up, take a stand and say “This is not good enough for our communities which are north of Preston. So cover all the North West properly or we will seek alternatives!”