22nd May 2023
When a viewer- who lives in Millom, Kirkby Lonsdale or Morecambe switches on their Regional TV, whether it be ITV Granada Reports or BBC1 North West Tonight– they do not just get news mainly about Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region or Cheshire, but they also get news about Euro-vision, Premier League football, inner-city racial tensions and urban shootings and stabbings. These are matters that are very real- and relevant- to Muslims in the middle of Manchester, a small man with learning disibilities living alone on Moss Side estate in South Manchester or a Liverpool Football Club supporter, but they are not likely to be of interest to a Westmorland hill-farmer or a North Lancastrian Bed and Breakfast proprietor. Local news has to be relevant, not just in terms of the geographical areas of interest but also topically- relevant.
Thus, the ideal for Regional TV across northern North West England would still be of news that is recognisably about the North West of England but also tailored much more to what is happening in Cumberland, Westmorland & Furness, and northern Lancashire. The news would ideally be more focussed on the issues and topics that affect rural northern North West England rather than the decidedly urban south of the English North West.
The Isle of Man is a remote rural island (in addition to not being part of England at all). Thus Manx viewers would certainly benefit more from coverage that is topically relevant in a TV Region that not only is likely to provide much better coverage of the Isle of Man but a TV Regional News- service that is also likely to provide news covering subjects relevant to the Isle of Man (where, strangely enough, issues like Black Lives Matter, or the success of Manchester United are unlikely to be important). It would, of course, be much better for Manx viewers if the Manx Government could put funds into setting up a bespoke TV News- service for the Isle of Man because that is what they need.
Returning to the northern two-thirds of geographical North West England that extends northwards of the River Ribble to the Scottish Border, it is clear that this entire region needs it’s own Regional TV News: This would ideally cover news- topics and features that are directly relevant to viewers in that large rural area (central Lancaster, Morecambe, Blackpool and Barrow-in-Furness are exceptions but even here rural issues have more of an impact than in, say, central Manchester or Liverpool, albeit an indirect one). Thus the following topics should make up the Regional TV News- coverage:
- The Tourist Industry
- Farming and Agriculture, including issues about hill- farming
- Fishing and other coastal industries
- The loss of Public transport links to, and vital Public services and amenities in (i.e. bank branches) small rural towns and villages
- Bad weather closing major road and rail-links to larger towns and cities, northwards into Scotland or cross- Pennine to North East England
- Rural crime and anti-social behaviour and the loss of Police based in small towns and villages
- Social enterprise schemes (Not For Profit) providing vital services in remote rural areas
- Pestilence and dangerous wild-animals affecting rural areas, i.e., Foot and Mouth disease
- Social events and music festivals with local appeal like Kendal Calling and Appleby Horse Fair
All these topics- along with timely reports about new businesses bringing work, juvenile disorder, fairs, etc. in the larger towns and small cities- would be appropriate for viewers from Ravenglass to Clitheroe, and from Pilling to Brampton. Then, in terms of geographical output, fully eighty percent of the news would be bespoke Cumberland, Westmorland and North Lancashire coverage with the remaining 20% addressing wider regional links for items of more serious coverage- with South Lancashire and Manchester to the south, with Northumberland and Tyneside to the north-east and with the Scottish Borders and south-west Scotland to the north. What is not ideal is for folk living in Ulverston or Millom to get news that’s 90% about the M62 Corridor, or for folk living in Whitehaven to get BBC Regional News that’s 85% about North East England and North Yorkshire: In each case the Regional TV that folk living in these places are provided with are completely irrelevant- both geographically and- to a large extent- topically for those viewers. What interest does a Black Lives Matter march in Liverpool hold for a sheep-farmer from near Kendal, or what interest does a protest outside the Baltic Museum in Newcastle hold for a Maryport fisherman?
Unfortunately, neither the BBC nor ITV.Plc are willing to spend money on setting up new TV Regions for northern North West England, not least in the current economic climate when the BBC has become more minded to axe existing BBC1 Regions. However, this does mean that folk living in towns like Carnforth, Kendal or Bardsea continue to get very little local or topically-relevant news-coverage. Neither Cumberland or Westmorland have been covered on either of the two mainstream North West Regional TV News- services over the last fortnight. This is, of course, unacceptable.
Writing to the local MP and to BBC1 North West Tonight (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) and to ITV Granada Reports (Email: email@example.com) would be a start on the long process towards changing the attitudes of broadcasters based at Media City towards viewers living north of Preston. If broadcasters don’t register that there is displeasure from viewers they will not change anything. However, unless there is a huge pressure on either the BBC or ITV.Plc, they are unlikely to provide an opt-out for areas north of Preston, let alone provide a new BBC or ITV TV Region for northern North West England. This is where the Power of Protest- with a picket outside Media City in Salford- would come into it’s own, provided it is associated with a campaign for all areas north of Preston to be put in a different TV Region that might provide more topical and geographic- appropriate local news-coverage.
It is very much my contention that were South Westmorland, far south-west Cumberland, the Furness peninsula and northern Lancashire transferred from the ITV1 Granada transmission area (population of seven million) to the ITV1 Border transmission area (population less than one million, with most of the news happening in places slightly more accessible to North Lancashire than is the case with places focussed on in ITV1 Granada Reports), then the result would be a much more topical and geographic- appropriate news-coverage. The very act of campaigning for ITV.Plc to switch all areas north of Preston to it’s ITV1 Border Regional TV News- Lookaround– would exert significant pressure on broadcasters for ITV Granada Reports.
Producers for BBC1 North West Tonight would also respond to viewers living in Barrow-in-Furness, Ulverston, Carnforth and Morecambe campaigning to get ITV1 Border’s Lookaround as they would (rightly) fear a loss of viewers: It is that, if anything, which is going to make BBC North West Tonight at least make an effort to ensure that, say, three news items out of ten are about happenings north of Preston with much more topical discussion of rural-related issues. That would be a huge positive step towards a more geographic-appropriate news-service for North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians- and a real result for this Website!
However, broadcasters are only likely to go out of their way to provide relevant news for viewers living north of Preston when producers for either BBC North West Tonight or ITV Granada Reports (or both) come to fear losing their more northern viewers to competition than losing a large number of the viewers in the more populated urban areas of Greater Manchester or Merseyside. That is far from the situation today, so if you are a viewer of BBC1 North West Tonight who lives in Morecambe you know what you need to do (and to get your local friends to do): Firstly, write and complain about the lack of local coverage. Secondly, write to your MP to complain about the lack of local news. Thirdly try and get ITV Border Lookaround so that you find out what’s happening locally to the north of you, and write to BBC North West/ ITV Granada to tell them that’s what you are doing- and why. Finally, up the pressure by travelling down to Media City with your like-minded friends to picket outside the offices of BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports with large placards saying “WE WANT ITV BORDER. WE WANT LANCASHIRE AND CUMBRIA NEWS! WE DONT WANT ITV GRANADA AND WE DONT WANT MANCHESTER AND LIVERPOOL NEWS!”. It is something like that, with a hundred viewers from Lancaster and Morecambe campaigning outside of Media City, that will shift the dial.
In conclusion, it looks like real political pressure may also be essential to ensure that the BBC is made to provide more BBC TV Regions that provide much more geographic- appropriate coverage: This not only means viewers protesting en-masse outside Media City and threatening to boycott Regional TV services for the adjacent TV Region- in order to obtain more local and topically- relevant news-coverage. It may also require the involvement of a political Party like the Liberal Democrats (which does well campaigning on local issues in rural areas- like their recent campaign against sewage discharges in rivers), for them to campaign for better, more localised Regional TV to be funded and provided for- on grounds that it is a vital Public service. The added clout of a national Political Party that can put pressure on ITV.Plc, the BBC, and the Government of the day to ensure broadcasters provide more- and more localised- local TV news-coverage would be a real boost to this Campaign. Local councils do not dare to slash funding for care homes and close Public libraries en-masse since there is strong political pressure for local councils to maintain these services. Broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV.Plc need to feel the same sort of political pressure to provide vital services as local and Regional news- programming and documentaries (and not cut them).