20th August 2023
(Updated 29th August 2023)
Much of BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports has been dominated by the coverage of nurse Lucy Letby, who has been convicted of the murder of seven babies in her care at the Neonatal Unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital. Nurse Lucy Letby has seldom been off TV-screens in North West England during the long ten-month trial, and there would be extensive reports from outside Manchester Crown Court, where she was being tried. Whilst the murder of babies born in a neo-natal unit at a hospital is extremely serious, and warrant extensive coverage, it is important that a Regional TV- service that is supposed to cover all of the North West reports on developments that affect other folk in other parts of North West England than just Chester or Manchester.
It is also a matter of concern, that in 2023, that at least ten minutes of a half-hour Regional TV bulletin is taken up with Sports coverage. Sport is not “news” as such, and whilst it is appropriate to cover of important events such as preparations for the Women’s World Cup Final, it is not appropriate that a third of the Regional News is given over to sports. In this day and age there is an entire TV Channel devoted to Manchester United (the Website is here: https://www.manutd.com/en/mutv-international), and there is an entire channel devoted to Liverpool Football Club (details here: https://www.liverpoolfc.com/watch), so there is absolutely no need for Regional TV to devote extensive coverage to these football clubs! So why it is necessary for BBC1 North West Tonight or ITV1 Granada Reports to spend five minutes telling viewers in detail about Manchester United and Liverpool Football Club? The English North West probably has a higher proportion of football-crazy boys and young men than the national average, but the fact remains that a lot of folk living in North West England are not football-mad: That is, not to the extent that they would rush to the TV screens and watch the Regional TV, just to find out how the matches played out and what the results were!
A good deal of the news-coverage on ITV1 Granada Reports (more than BBC1 North West Tonight) is very metropolitan in outlook and the coverage (including the presenters) can be described as woke. ITV1 Granada Reports devotes a considerable amount of coverage to issues like Black Lives Matter, ethnic minority tensions in Manchester and Liverpool, covers Gay Pride marches and LGBT issues, covers Muslim festivals like Eid-al-Fitr, etc., to an extent that is out of all proportion to the concerns of it’s viewers in North West England as a whole. Issues around rural poverty, coastal town deprivation in Lancashire and Cumbria, rural bus services, etc,. which directly impact a higher proportion of viewers in North West England who live outside the cities, scarcely get a look-in.
If there has to be a Regional TV-service that majors on Sports coverage, and which covers urban and metropolitan issues then ITV1 Granada Reports is better-placed to remain that Regional TV-service. But BBC1 North West Tonight is a different matter: It is funded by the TV Licence-fee and underpinned by a BBC Royal Charter that stipulates that the BBC should be required to produce “High quality news and documentaries covering issues affecting all parts of the United Kingdom”. Coupled with the fact that BBC1 North West’s transmission area extends deeper into Cumbria than the transmission area for ITV1 Granada, this should place on programmers an obligation to make BBC1 North West Tonight a much more pan-Regional North West Regional News-service than that produced by ITV1 Granada Reports.
There are some obvious measures that can be taken: The BBC should be required to reduce Sports coverage to a maximum of five minutes in the main Regional TV shows, except in exceptional circumstances, that would free up the time for two or three more real news- features across all BBC1 Regions. In the case of BBC1 North West Tonight there should be a requirement put into the BBC Charter that a) All of North West England from Cheshire to the Scottish Border is covered, even though northern Cumbria is outside the BBC1 North West transmission boundary and b) That at least 50% of the news-coverage comes from outside the confines of Greater Manchester and Merseyside.
Additionally, there should be a requirement for all BBC1 Regional TV services catering for viewers outside London to cover topics of concern affecting native British viewers and also more rural issues in coverage. Over 85% of the population of North West England is still White British (refer to report here: https://www.varbes.com/demographics/north-west-demographics), but looking at the news-reports on ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight, one could easily be led to believe that other ethnic groups make up more than a third of the whole population.
When such requirements are made of BBC1 Regional TV programming in the North West of England (and elsewhere in the UK), with these requirements underpinned by the BBC Royal Charter, there would be a marked improvement in the relevance and localness of news-coverage for viewers in North West England who live outside the two big Metropolitan areas of Greater Manchester and Merseyside.
Once one gets north of the M62 Corridor viewers of Regional TV identify more as Lancastrian and consider Lancashire to be their county: This is especially true across the northern half of Greater Manchester, which was historically (and traditionally) part of Lancashire. To that end, viewers in Bolton and Wigan would identify more readily with news-coverage of Lancashire more than news about Stockport and South Manchester. Viewers here are as likely, if not more likely, to head to the Lakes (just an hour up the M6 by car or by train) for a day out on a fine summer’s day rather than travel through Greater Manchester to get to the Peak District and their Northern pride and self- esteem means that folk living in places like Wigan or Bolton would be happier being associated with nice places to visit to the north of them than to the south. Thus, some coverage of Cumbria and the Lake District would be appreciated by viewers from as far south as Bolton, Wigan and Bury.
The other significant drawback with both BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports is the fact that both Greater Manchester and Merseyside share the same TV Region. Specifically with regards to Merseyside there is a sense, even if not actually, that Manchester gets the lion’s share of coverage. There is a need to ensure that Merseyside and Cheshire do not lose out on coverage whilst addressing the needs of viewers who live north of the M62 Corridor. Unfortunately, the English North West (at least the parts covered by BBC1 North West Tonight) extends 130 miles from the south of Cheshire to the heart of the Lake District in the north, whilst extending over sixty miles from the Pennines to the Wirral Coast. Both the BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports’ transmission areas also include the Isle of Man, which is a small country in its own right.
Neither of the two mainstream North West Regional TV- services can- or should- try to please everyone by covering the North of the Region more whilst at the same time covering the urban conurbations well, covering the Isle of Man well and also catering for those who love football. ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight cover slightly different areas (the transmission area for BBC1 North West Tonight extends 25 miles further north and deeper into Cumbria than that for ITV1 Granada Reports does), they have different viewers and are funded differently: The BBC in the North West of England is funded by TV Licence-payers, and how this money is spent is underpinned by the BBC Royal Charter which stipulates that some of the Licence-fee money should be spent Providing News and Documentaries relevant to Viewers in all parts of the UK. ITV1 Granada Reports is paid for largely from advertising revenue so the more people who watch it, the better.
To that end, BBC1 North West Tonight should be required to provide much more coverage of happenings north of the M62 Corridor. This would be of benefit to viewers in the one part of Merseyside where the inhabitants would consider themselves Lancastrian more than affiliated towards Liverpool- namely the Southport area. BBC1 North West Tonight should also be required to provide a ten minute opt-out service with each of the evening bulletins for the Isle of Man, with a minimum of five news- items just for the Isle of Man: That is because the Isle of Man is a country in its own right and nothing that happens a three-hour ferry journey across the Irish Sea from the Isle of Man is local to folk living on the island: Such a requirement could be inserted into the revised BBC Royal Charter, which means that the BBC will have to spend money providing the Isle of Man opt-out.
Meanwhile, ITV1 Granada Reports should be required to cover Merseyside and Cheshire more, i.e., at least five news-items a night with some overlap into north-east Wales, in its coverage. Such a requirement could be put into legislation underpinning the condition for ITV1 Granada providing news. ITV1 Granada Reports would also be allowed to continue providing Sports coverage. Since ITV1 Granada Reports is funded by advertising revenue, it is appropriate to ensure it attracts viewers primarily in the most populated urban south of North West England, whilst allowing BBC1 North West Tonight to focus more on the less- populated areas further north and on the Isle of Man.
Both ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight would continue to be recognisable providers of North West regional news, but they would be recognisably different: I see no point in there being two Regional TV News-services providing identical news, covering the same topics and covering all the same metropolitan urban areas in the south of the North West of England: It is a waste of resources when other places further north, such as on the Fylde Coast or in the South Lakes, are scarcely getting coverage from either BBC1 North West Tonight or ITV1 Granada Reports! This is especially so if there are also viewers living in places like Heswall or Birkenhead on the Wirral peninsula who are also feeling short-changed by both North West Regional TV-services on account of there being Too much news about Greater Manchester!
Similar arragements between the ITV1 and BBC1 Regional news could be made in other Regions of the UK: For the North East of England, including northern Cumbria and North Yorkshire BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) could be given a brief to keep the Tyneside/ Teesside/ Wearside news to 50% coverage at a maximum whilst covering Northumberland, northern Cumbria, the North Pennines, and North Yorkshire better, plus some overlap coverage into southern Scotland for the benefit of folk living near the Scottish Border. Meanwhile, ITV1 News Tyne Tees could be required to provide a recognisably North East England News-service focussed more on Tyneside, Teesside, Durham City and the Sunderland area, with more coverage of sports. As in North West England, it is a little pointless having two Regional TV programmes providing the same (or almost the same) news- programming in terms of geographical location and topical content- especially when viewers in rural areas near the periphery of the transmission areas get little effective local coverage from either of the Regional TV News- services on offer: That is a bit of a waste of the combined resources for the ITV1 and BBC1 Regional News-services in a region!
A radical alteration to each of the two mainstream Regional TV services for North West England is long overdue: In particular there is a disconnect between what both these Regional TV News-services provide and at least 50% of the viewers in their respective transmission areas. The only reason that this has not resulted in a mass switching-over to other Local TV News-services like That’s TV Lancashire (Freeview Channel 7 at 6.pm week-days), or Regional TV in an adjacent TV Region like ITV1 Border Lookaround is because people living in the North West of England think what they have is the best that there is! That is, of course, patently not true and when viewers living north of the M62 Corridor discover the joys of much more localised TV like That’s TV Lancashire and following this up by watching the ITV1 Border Lookaround after it is loaded on to the Website two hours after being aired live (to find out what is happening north of them), a sufficient number of viewers may switch over to cause a serious rethink at the Media City (Salford) offices of our North West Regional TV broadcasters.
It is possible that a new Regional TV-service might identify gaps in the Regional TV market, one for Isle of Man only news (there is a You Tube based Isle of Man TV that Manx viewers can watch, although this is not a Regional TV News-service like BBC1 North West Tonight– details here: https://www.youtube.com/c/IsleofManTV). A new Regional TV- service for North West England would identify the need for Cumbria/ western Yorkshire Dales/ Lancashire/ northern Greater Manchester and Southport-focussed news and Merseyside/ Cheshire/ NE Wales/ North Shropshire-focussed news and start providing specific news-services for those different areas. Once that happens both BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports will start losing viewers at an alarming rate and will have to adapt the content and geographic coverage that they provide or become unviable.
A first port of call in getting the two North West Regional TV- services to change what they produce- so that BBC1 North West Tonight caters more to viewers north of the M62 Corridor and on the Isle of Man with ITV1 Granada Reports covering Merseyside and Cheshire more- is to put the suggestions to the Heads of Programming for each Regional TV provider in the North West. Suggest to them that news-duplication in both Regional news-services wastes resources and that BBC1 North West is better- disposed to the Isle of Man, Cumbria, and Lancashire (because it’s transmission area extends a bit further north and TV Licence funding), whilst ITV1 Granada is better-disposed to the urban south of the North West. The Heads of Programming for each Regional TV- service in the North West of England is as follows:
- BBC1 North West Tonight: Michelle Mayman,
Head of BBC North West TV and Online,
Quay House, Media City UK, Salford Quays, SALFORD.
- ITV1 Granada Reports: Lucy West, Head of News,
Orange Tower, Media City UK, SALFORD. M50 2HF.
Should writing to the Heads of Regional News for both BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports fail, the next recourse is to make the suggestions to one’s local MP and get them to ask both Regional TV- services in the North West to collaborate on ensuring that they use their combined resources to cover all of North West England and the Isle of Man better: The address for one’s local MP will always be: House of Commons, St. Margaret Street, Westminster, LONDON. SW1A 0AA. And believe you me, it probably will fail at first because the Heads of Regional TV programming are content for the news coverage and content to either remain as it is, or they want to save money: Thus, ideas like provisions of opt-out news-programming in a sub-regional setting which cost money, will be given short shrift untli one perserveres and the Heads of Programming see a case for spending money to stop the loss of viewers (and revenue). In January 2019 I received a curt response from the then Head of Regional and Local Programmes for BBC1 North West, Mr. Aziz Rashid, when I suggested that BBC North West might find money to spend on opt-outs to improve Regional TV in Cumbria and Lancashire when he said: “We are not having opt-outs. They are expensive. We are not changing the transmission boundaries. Sorry!“.
If that fails, one should get family and friends to write both to local MPs and directly to the heads of broadcasting for the Regional TV News- services in the North West.
A concerted effort from more than one hundred North West viewers should bring results, but if writing to the heads of news and to local MPs still does not cut it, one need to consider ways of getting local or more geographic-appropriate news-coverage whilst boycotting both BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports. Viewers in Merseyside and western Cheshire can watch Liverpool TV (Freeview Channel 7, Virgin media Channel 159 or online- Website here: https://uklocal.tv/liverpool-tv/), and one can also follow that up with North Wales TV to find out about what is happening across the Welsh border (details here: https://uklocal.tv/north-wales-tv/). If one lives in Merseyside or Cheshire one can sign up online to watch it as Merseyside is probably outside the TV transmission area.
Viewers north of the M62 Corridor can get That’s TV Lancashire (Freeview Channel 7, details here: http://www.thats.tv/lancashire/). However, viewers in North Lancashire or South Cumbria might struggle to get the signal for That’s TV Lancashire, but the Lancs Live website has plenty of news and the odd video- clip (details here: https://www.lancs.live/news/) and, if it is news northwards of one’s community that one wants then ITV1 Border Lookaround is loaded on to the ITV1 Border website to watch about two hours after it is aired live, that’s about 8 pm on week-days (the ITV1 Border main website page is here: https://www.itv.com/news/border). ITV1 Border Lookaround typically has 50% or more coverage of Cumbria with most of the remainder being just over the Scottish Border, so compared to ITV1 Granada Reports the content is often more local for a viewer in (say) Carnforth or Morecambe. If one is going to boycott both BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports by watching whatever local news-service, or combination thereof, is more appropriate one must write back to the Heads of Programming for both the mainstream Regional TV News-services to explain that their Regional programmes will be boycotted because of the lack of geographic or topically-appropriate news-coverage.
If enough folk follow through and do this, then there is a real chance that program- providers will change the content that they produce in the ways suggested above- to make it more inclusive of all parts of North West England! It is unlikely that Heads of Programming like former Head of Regional TV for BBC North West, Mr. Aziz Rashid (or his successor) will be anything like so “We are Not Doing This! It’s Too Expensive- Go Away!” if over one hundred viewers of BBC1 North West Tonight from North Lancashire wrote in and said: “We are boycotting BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports because the content is geographically inappropriate and does not reflect our Regional and Local affiliation. We will use Lancs Live and watch ITV1 Border Lookaround after the programme is loaded online to get news about northern Lancashire and Cumbria, which is more relevant to us than Greater Manchester and Merseyside 80% of the time“!
Viewers in the affected areas can even follow this up with an organised rally outside the Media City offices of ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight complete with big banners saying “We want Cumbria/ Lancashire news, not Greater Manchester/ Liverpool news all the time. Change or put us with ITV1 Border Lookaround“! Viewers from the Wirral and the Chester area close to the Welsh border would be best targeting ITV1 Granada Reports for “Less Greater Manchester and Manchester United. More Merseyside, west Cheshire and NE Wales please”! I cannot imagine the Heads of News for either of the two mainstream North West Regional TV-services remaining unconcerned were there to be rallies outside their offices.
In time, there may be a new Regional TV disruptor come onto the market in North West England, one that will see that there is a need for a Cumbria/ Lancashire/ Southport and northern Greater Manchester Regional TV service that caters to the needs of rural, scattered communities and those of the indigenous population out in the province, rather than pandering heavily to the Metropolitan, LGBT, and ethnic minority concerns of the cities- and to sports fanatics! That same new Regional TV company might set up a separate Regional TV service dedicated to Merseyside, Cheshire, North Shropshire and north-east Wales. When that day comes it will be a good day for viewers of Regional TV who live in places like Carnforth, Millom and Morecambe, as well as places like Nantwich, Neston and Heswall: All these are towns where ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight are the default Regional TV- services, but over the large transmission areas that both cover- the needs of viewers with regards to good, effective Regional TV changes sharply! This is something that Regional TV programmers need to be acutely aware of!
The day when such a new Regional TV service comes to cater for viewers across the wider geographic North West of England as well as on the Isle of Man will be great, but until then viewers in North West England outside the two major Metropolitan counties will have to fight effectively to get better, and more topically and geographic-appropriate, North West Regional TV. And that may mean over a hundred viewers being prepared to change the habits of a lifetime, to switch from BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports to That’s TV Lancashire and ITV1 Border Lookaround for more local news and news more in-keeping with one’s local and regional affiliation: Communities north of Preston don’t necessarily link with Manchester or Liverpool for going shopping, going to hospitals, airports, etc and northern Lancashire is closer to the Lakes, at least in terms of travel time and also in terms of emotional attachment: It is where folk are a bit more likely to go on a nice day out. Broadcasters need a timely reminder of these facts, but viewers have to play their part in bringing these points to bear on North West Regional TV broadcasters.