11th June 2023
Recently, I travelled to a funeral near Birkenhead, following the death of an elderly in-law of my brother. Whilst I was there I caught the Sunday evening news from BBC1 North West Tonight and it was telling. The most northerly news- feature was that of a nine-year-old child hurt at a fairground in Southport. There was a news-report of a murder in Greater Manchester, though the remaining few items were about locations in and around Liverpool.
Now this may be fine for some in communities living along the M62 Corridor, though even in places like Warrington folk would welcome news of serious accidents on the M6 as far north as Tebay and as far south as Stafford: A good Regional TV service should always have some coverage (about 15 to 20%) of significant events up to an hour’s travel-time away- north and east as well as south. All round coverage is almost important as strong localised coverage. Most of the population of North West England benefits from getting a good sweep of wider-area coverage from Staffordshire right up to the Scottish Border, and eastwards a little way into West Yorkshire and the western Yorkshire Dales. However, most people also want primarily local coverage and if the Regional TV transmission areas are too big to provide it for everyone they should be broken into two or more smaller units.
However, the issue of Mersey-centric coverage is not just about the news on the evening of Sunday 4th June 2023, but the virtual entirety of the last three weeks. Judging from the Twitter feed from BBC1 North West Tonight and looking through the reports featured on ITV1 Granada Reports’ web-page it would appear that there has been no coverage of anything north of Lancaster for weeks.
This is one of typically several periods during the year when viewers of Regional TV- who are primarily interested in what is happening in nearby communities and places a bit further afield that they like to frequent- only get news about the urban south of North West England. When this happens, and if one is a viewer who lives in somewhere like Carnforth or Coniston, you do not get news about the areas around where you live if you turn on the Regional TV.
For the fourth year in a row since the Campaign for better Regional TV for Lancashire and Cumbria was launched, the North West’s gypsies have been slighted by the Regional TV that is supposed to serve them: Not one mention of Appleby Horse Fair, the largest annual gathering of gypsies in Europe. Neither BBC1 North West Tonight nor ITV1 Granada Reports have seen fit to cover the annual gathering of gypsies at Appleby Horse Fair simply because Appleby is just north of the transmission area for both mainstream North West Regional TV services. It is fairly certain that any gypsy family in North West England would either know about Appleby Horse Fair and when it is happening (and would probably express an interest in going), or they would wish to be informed of the gathering in advance so that they could go to it.
News about Appleby Horse Fair was, of course, broadcast on BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) and on ITV1 Border Lookaround. This means that gypsies who live in North East England, south-west Scotland, the Scottish Borders and much of North Yorkshire will have been informed about Appleby Fair, but that gypsies in Lancashire and South Cumbria (closer to Appleby than those living in Tyneside and the Scottish Borders) will not.
The BBC and ITV.Plc based in the North West of England bend over backwards to cater for the interests of Muslims, Asians, the Gay and Lesbian communities based in and around Manchester and Liverpool but seem not to be interested in more rural-based people- groups, especially when these in the north of the region. The BBC’s Royal Charter stipulates that news must be provided for all viewers in every part of the country, with news and topics relevant for all communities. However, this does not happen for the benefit of viewers who live in the northern half of the transmission areas of BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports. Gypsies, one of the most maligned people-groups in Europe, seem to come way down the order of priorities for either the BBC or ITV.Plc.
This Website was not set up to campaign for the rights of gypsies per-se, but for viewers who live in northern Lancashire, South Cumbria and on the Isle of Man who do not get their communities or the places that they frequent covered at all well. The non-coverage of Appleby Horse Fair is symptomatic of both BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports prioritising the interests of the five million folk who live in Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region and Cheshire over the less than one million who live in the north of their transmission areas. In short, it’s a numbers game and the interests of the big group always trumps that of the smaller group. Broadcaster’s need to maximise advertising revenues (by maximising viewers) will always push them to cater for the more populous parts of North West England over less-populous parts of the region. Strict BBC and ITV.Plc protocols about regional broadcasters not providing overlap coverage at the edge of transmission boundaries compound the lack of all-round local news-coverage for viewers of Regional TV News- programming in northern Lancashire and South Cumbria.
It is clear, then, that the solution to the continued lack of effective news-coverage for communities north of Preston will necessarily involve changing the financial incentives in the minds of Regional TV broadcasters. The Government and statutory bodies like OFCOM have a role to pay, but viewers in Lancashire and South Cumbria (South Westmorland and Furness, as it now is) also need to do something that radically alters the minds of broadcasters. If producers for ITV1 Granada Reports feared the loss of potentially 750,000 North Lancastrian and South Cumbrian viewers more than losing 10% of the viewers in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, and Cheshire (about 550,000 potential viewers) producers would sharply provide more coverage of Lancashire and Cumbria! If producers for BBC1 North West Tonight feared getting a £1 million fine for not fulfilling it’s obligations under the BBC Royal Charter for it’s viewers in northern Lancashire or South Cumbria they would sharply produce more coverage of Cumbria and northern Lancashire.
The solution to this on-going issue of viewers in Carnforth, Morecambe, Fleetwood, Grange-over-Sands, Kendal, and Millom not getting their areas championed therefore requires statutory intervention and viewers being able to choose viable alternatives. If enough folk living in Lancaster and Morecambe club together and write en-masse to OFCOM to complain about the lack of coverage of northern North West England from both BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports, and write to their MP’s to complain about it then OFCOM and local MPs will put pressure on both the mainstream Regional TV services for North West England to make improvements to their coverage north of Preston- with a possible motivating threat of fines if this was not forthcoming.
Viewers who live in northern Lancashire and South Cumbria can also put direct pressure on producers for Regional TV in the North West to provide more coverage north of Preston by writing to those producers to ask for more coverage, stating that they are willing to shop around to find other sources of more local news or news more favouring their local and Regional affiliations. Of course, the two mainstream Regional TV services for North West England play on the fact that they are the only ones providing “North West Regional News” and the only ones that cover Lancashire: And with this they keep the viewers in the north of their transmission areas seeking out alternatives.
Whilst it’s true that there are no other Regional TV services that centre on Lancashire whilst covering the North West it is wrong to say that viewers are powerless to find credible alternatives for local news: Viewers in North Lancashire can shop around to get themselves a bearable combination of news-sources that would enable them to credibly boycott both BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports. The following combinations, dependent on where one is in northern North West England provide local news-coverage and enable one to find out what is happening further north:
- Viewers around Blackpool and just North of Preston can get That’s TV Lancashire on Freeview Channel 7 (here: http://www.thats.tv/lancashire/). This airs at 6.pm every week-day and provides ten minutes of news just about Lancashire. You can also furnish that with news off the Lancs Live website (details here: https://www.lancs.live/ ) which has clips and news featuring what has been happening only in Lancashire. There are also periodic news- features covering Cumbria too- including a piece on Appleby Horse Fair in recent days.
- Around Lancaster and Morecambe the signal for That’s TV Lancashire is poor to non-existent but you can still watch news and clips from the That’s TV Lancashire Twitter-feed (here: https://twitter.com/ThatsTVLancs/ ), and from the Lancs Live website. For coverage of Cumbria, so one can get news of what is happening further north ITV Border Lookaround covers what is now Cumberland and Westmorland and Furness extremely well (typically 50% coverage of Cumbria or a bit more, most of the remainder is about Dumfries and Galloway, with a bit of the Scottish Borders). ITV Border’s Lookaround is loaded on to the ITV Border website (details here: https://www.itv.com/news/border) about two hours after it airs online. In many areas around Lancaster and Morecambe (with a clear view north for the TV aerial) it is possible to get the ITV1 Border signal from the Kendal Fell transmitter so you can watch it live at 6.pm on week-days.
- Viewers in South Cumbria (South Westmorland and Furness) where the default ITV1 Regional TV programme is ITV1 Granada Reports should, where possible, swivel their aerials northwards to get ITV1 Border’s Lookaround. Where this is not possible then, with access to the Internet, viewers can watch ITV1 Border’s Lookaround after it is loaded on to the ITV1 Border website (typically about two hours after it is aired live). The Lancs Live website or That’s TV Lancashire Twitter feed also has plenty of news about nearby Lancashire.
- On the Isle of Man viewers do not have to put up with “local” news” that is 95 to 100% about another country! You can get news and clips off the You Tube based Isle of Man TV (website details here: https://www.youtube.com/c/IsleofManTV ). There is also a Facebook page which links to Isle of Man TV news features (https://www.facebook.com/IsleOfManTV/ ). Why put up with Regional TV that is mostly about Manchester and Merseyside. Tell your friends and family about Isle of Man TV and watch news that’s just about the Isle of Man.
Viewers who live in northern North West England and on the Isle of Man can shop around and watch alternatives. These even exist as Regional TV News that you can sit down and watch: Although Isle of Man TV is You Tube based it does have some programs and news-features that are of length to be sit-down watchable (like you would with BBC1 North West Tonight or ITV1 Granada Reports).
If, as a North Lancastrian or South Cumbrian, this shopping around and watching things on websites all seems a bit much hassle; you just want to turn the TV on to watch the local news consider a) You never get much local news and b) You’re unlikely to be told about anything significant to the north or east of your community. The Regional TV Programmers base their programming calculations upon which parts of the North West are likely to kick up the biggest, most costly fuss if they get scant regard- and produce the Regional News against the Viewer- algorithms that they have calculated. They have calculated that viewers who live in the area between the Lakes and the Ribble can be effectively ignored on the grounds that they are unlikely to abandon the mainstream North West Regional TV news- services, that they will always Stick with Nurse for Fear of Worse! Disabuse the mainstream North West England Regional TV programmers of that notion by taking control of your viewing and shopping around (on the Internet if needs be).
No one likes change, and Lancastrian viewers will not lightly break the habit of a lifetime of always sitting down at 6.pm to watch ITV1 Granada Reports. But once you make the change and discover those combinations of broadcast news that provide better all-round local news-coverage you may be glad that you did. Without serious change, and a major insurrection of Regional TV viewing habits, Regional TV bosses at Salford Quays will continue to prioritise the urban south of the Region over communities further north- and there will continue to be lengthy Cumbria and North Lancashire News-droughts. Viewers who live north of Preston will continue to feel under-represented, and they will feel that what happens where they live and in the places they frequent is not important to the BBC or ITV.Plc. But TV News is important and Regional TV News is vital to local communities. It’s too important to be allowed to continue to fail to champion local needs and community concerns across the northern half of the geographical North West of England.