8th August 2021
People watch the Regional Television to get news about the region in which they live- as it applies to them- but also folk expect to find out more about the communities in which they live, travel to work and visit. Indeed, at the end of the BBC National News at 6.30 pm the news- presenters then say “Now for the News Where You Are”., before the the programme switches to whatever BBC Regional TV service that you are in. Folk expect to get the news where they live- as the BBC tells them. However, for locations at the fridge of both the BBC and ITV1 transmission regions this may not be strictly true and they may not get some local news because it is across the transmission boundary in another TV Region.
Parts of east Lancashire and what would be considered eastern Greater Manchester fall into such an edge-of-transmission boundary area. Although clearly in North West England, towns like Rochdale, Burnley, Nelson, Colne and Oldham are actually close to the edge of the eastern transmission boundaries for receipt of both BBC North West and ITV1 Granada News- programming. The situation is not as extreme as for viewers in South Cumbria- who may have to watch another ITV Region’s News to get more local news and news about their own county (i.e., ITV Border’s Lookaround), as indeed both ITV Granada Reports and BBC North West Tonight cover Greater Manchester very well and BBC North West Tonight covers east Lancashire well too (ITV Granada Reports less so). Thus, at a superficial level one could argue that these east Lancashire communities get good local news- coverage.
However, what makes a Regional News- service really good is good local coverage that’s also all-round local- with coverage of really major events up to an hour’s travel time away in any direction. Thus, for the purposes of viewers in Nelson, Colne, Burnley and Rochdale- and indeed in the High Peak area of north-west Derbyshire (which receives both BBC North West and ITV Granada output), local news is not only Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and High Peak, it is also the western half of West Yorkshire, the Skipton area of North Yorkshire- and indeed north-east and central Derbyshire for viewers in the High Peak area. And, for really serious happenings (up to an hour’s travel time away) the area of interest extends to cover Merseyside, Cheshire, the remainder of Lancashire and as far north as Kendal, south as far as Derby and northern Staffordshire (for High Peak viewers) and eastwards as far as Leeds, Sheffield and including the western half of the Yorkshire Dales.
Whilst it is important for the North West Regional news to retain Regional identity- in this case it should be about North West England- it may be necessary for those viewers in east Lancashire and eastern Greater Manchester- for at least one of the North West Regional TV services to include some news about West Yorkshire so that those areas like Rochdale, Burnley or Oldham get more all- round localised news-coverage. Alternatively, to avoid dilution of the North West Regional brand it might be appropriate- for some of those areas to be transferred into the Leeds- based TV Region (either with ITV or the BBC)- and in these days of Digital Television and Post-Code Mapping the technology is certainly there.
All the areas mentioned, with the exception of the Buxton area of Derbyshire and Saddleworth/ Oldham where folk consider themselves to be “Northern”, identify strongly as “North West England” and if they have to go on major shopping trips or go to the airport it is likely to be Manchester. However, if there was, for instance, a fatal road smash with five people being killed on the M62 near Huddersfield and they did not get to hear about it on the Regional News, but only later, there would be some unhappy viewers. Folk identify with local issues first (Immediate Local is within 30 minutes’ travel time of an area), their county second and then Regional affiliation third and that impacts on whether it justifies moving a community or town into a different TV Region or whether the existing TV Region serving the area should make some adaptions to it’s geographic coverage.
Firstly, Buxton is in Derbyshire and although (officially) in the East Midlands folk living there identify more as “Northern”. The Buxton area should be transferred to the BBC Yorkshire and North Midlands Region from where they would get BBC Look North (Yorkshire) which covers much of Derbyshire in news-output anyway. Viewers in Buxton would still be able to enjoy ITV Granada Reports which will still give them coverage of Greater Manchester and Cheshire. Then ITV Granada- which covers the south of North West England well- could in turn be encouraged to cover some serious happenings in Staffordshire and northern Shropshire for the benefit of viewers in the far south of their transmission areas. Viewers in the High Peak area of north west Derbyshire then stand the best chance of finding out about any serious happenings within an hour’s travel- time of their community.
The Saddleworth/ Oldham area is another area that should be transferred to the BBC Yorkshire Region because much of this area was historically part of Yorkshire (this news-article illuminates the point https://www.examinerlive.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/saddleworth-still-yearns-part-yorkshire-4927144), and many local viewers would be happier getting news about Huddersfield, Leeds and Sheffield- all well within an hour’s drive of the town. As with Buxton, folk in the Saddleworth/ Oldham area- identify more as “Northern” than “North West”, although local viewers would still be able to watch ITV Granada Reports to gain coverage of happenings further west.
Further north, BBC North West Tonight covers the Rochdale area and east Lancashire well but it is clear that ITV Granada Reports is very metropolitan focussed and it is less obvious that it really “Covers the North West of England” as advertised. However, there are also a lot of viewers in places like Rochdale, Burnley and Rossendale attached to the Granada brand: Hence a blanket move to the ITV Calendar (Yorkshire) Region would cause the same Public uproar as the BBC experienced from northern Cumbrians when they transferred Carlisle and northern Cumbria to the BBC North West Region in the 1980’s! However, viewers in these areas of east Lancashire and around Rochdale could be given a choice between ITV Granada and ITV Calendar (Northern version- which mainly covers West Yorkshire and the southern end of the Yorkshire Dales). ITV Calendar would then be given a brief to cover east Lancashire and the Rochdale area- in addition to their existing areas- and this would also provide viewers in western West Yorkshire with more all-round local news-coverage.
This means that there would be signals from two ITV Regions in the Rochdale area and in east Lancashire. Viewers could be told that ITV Calendar is covering these areas and, if they wish to switch, it would be easy to do so, but that ITV Granada would remain the default ITV Region for those areas.
With regards to BBC North West Tonight the fact that they no longer have to cover everything significant that happens in Buxton or the Saddleworth/Oldham areas means that they will have slightly more air-time to devote to providing a real North West England Regional News service for other parts of North West England. It is to be hoped that they would use the freed-up air-time to cover the neglected northern two-thirds of North West England better (including coverage of major happenings in northern Cumbria, north of the transmission area, for the benefit of their Cumbrian and North Lancastrian viewers). It also means Programmers could cover locations close to the Lancashire-Yorkshire border even better than before and, for serious happenings- cover events as far east as a line from Skipton to Huddersfield. This means that there won’t be more than a couple of West Yorkshire or North Yorkshire news-items a week, so the North West Regional identity is maintained but it also increases the all- round coverage for places like Burnley, Littleborough and Bacup.
In the meantime, the situation remains that a home in somewhere like Littleborough gets all coverage to the west from both the ITV and BBC Regions- and nothing just a few miles to the east. But just eight miles eastwards along the A58 at Ripponden, across the border into West Yorkshire both BBC and ITV Regional News is to the east and one hears nothing about what is happening a bit further west. The chameleon-like change in Regional TV coverage is certainly not reflected in real life when what is local to Littleborough is perhaps not that different to what is local to Ripponden. If viewers in these areas of east Lancashire and eastern Greater Manchester find this unsatisfactory they can write to BBC North West and ITV Granada to say so, and if they are not happy with the response write to OFCOM and the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport. Details are all here https://northwestisnorthwest.org/important-contacts-to-write-to-about-regional-television/. Provide some of the suggestions made here for how improvements to local news-coverage might be made.