13th April 2018
On this Site there are articles critiquing Regional Television News-Programming in NorthWest England and on the Isle of Man (which is in the transmission areas of both BBC NorthWest and ITV Granada), particularly the lack of comprehensive and consistent coverage of locations north of a line from Southport to Rochdale. There are articles discussing how to improve Regional Television for the margins of the transmission areas and for the more northerly parts of the Region; invariably these cost money.
In today’s post I wish to look at regional identity: Clearly NorthWest Regional Television, that advertises as covering the Northwest of England and the Isle of Man must be seen to cover the whole of the NorthWest of England comprehensibly and also cover the Isle of Man to the satisfaction of the folk who live there, in what is a nation state in its own right. Does the programming champion Regional Identity in a manner that makes clear that “This is the NorthWest”? Unfortunately, there is no way that Regional Programming with responsibility for the NorthWest of England and the Isle of Man does this and there is a perception (quite justified) that what you really get is The Greater Manchester and Merseyside News, not The NorthWest and Isle of Man News.
Most people understand the NorthWest Region in geographical terms as all of that part of England which lies between Scotland and the English Midlands that lies westwards from the Pennines- all of those areas where the rivers drain westwards into the Irish Sea. This covers an area that includes almost all of Cumbria (Alston Moor and the villages of Midgehome and Coalfell, in the extreme north-east of Cumbria is in the South Tyne catchment from where waters eventually flow into the North Sea at Tynemouth); all of Lancashire, Cheshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester drains west into the Irish Sea as does part of the Craven District of North Yorkshire, a tiny sliver of Northumberland where the River Irthing (that drains west into the Irish Sea) forms part of the border between Cumbria and Northumberland not far from the Scottish Border; the High Peak area of Derbyshire and parts of northernmost Shropshire are also north of the flat country of the English Midlands to the south and lie in this zone. Incredibly folk in all of the above-mentioned areas except the northern two-thirds of Cumbria and the tiny sliver of Northumberland already mentioned can and do watch NorthWest Regional News Programming.
Central and northern Cumbria get their Regional Programming from BBC Look North (NorthEast/ Cumbria) and from ITV Border: The latter covers Cumbria extremely well, except when there is joint ITV Tyne-Tees Border news in the mornings and at weekends that brings quite a lot of coverage of NorthEast England at the expense of Cumbria and southern Scotland (where viewers also get ITV Border, with special Scottish opt-out programming on weekdays). BBC Look North serves their Cumbrian viewers poorly as Cumbria would be lucky if they received two news items out of nine or ten on the main evening bulletins, with the other news being about the NorthEast.
Now folk in the north-east of Cumbria and around Carlisle might be OK with BBC Look North because they are likely to head to the NorthEast for major shopping expeditions or to go to the airport. Indeed residents of Alston Moor, in the remote north-east of Cumbria also get ITV Tyne-Tees output because their television is transmitted from Pontop Pike near Newcastle- they are quite happy with this arrangement because they have more to do with the North East than other parts of Cumbria! However, folk who live in West Cumbria who find 85% of the output is 100 or more miles away and on the other side of the Pennines must find this irksome and feel that they are in the “wrong” BBC TV region. Their sense of Regional Identity is not served or enhanced by their getting Regional Television output from Newcastle or Gateshead, since West Cumbria is clearly in the NorthWest of England as is very apparent from looking at a map! None of this means that folk living in Whitehaven, Workington, Frizington, Egremont or Cockermouth would be better-served by being transferred by being in BBC NorthWest’s transmission area with the current make-up of news-programming being mainly Manchester, Liverpool, northern Cheshire, etc. However there is a case for ITV Border to be tied-up with ITV Granada rather than ITV Tyne-Tees so that weekend and breakfast news-programming is about the NorthWest rather than the NorthEast.
With the exception of folk who live in the north-east of Cumbria and around Carlisle, viewers of Regional Television in the North West want news that is recognisably North West England because that is where they are geographically, but folk also want news that also covers their local communities well- otherwise what is the point of watching the “Local News”? In the Isle of Man, where folk see themselves as living in a separate country, they are affronted by 95% so-called local news which is about England. Addressing all this adequately cannot be achieved without splitting the large BBC NorthWest and ITV Granada Regions; providing totally separate programming for Lancashire and South Cumbria and then also providing the Isle of Man with its own local news programming. When that is done northern Cumbria could be transferred into the new BBC NorthWest (Lancashire/ Cumbria) Region which would also provide opt-out programming for northern Cumbria, with news-coverage allocated 80% northern Cumbria, 10% South Cumbria and 10% overlap northwards across southern Scotland, eastwards to Newcastle, Gateshead, rural Durham and Northumberland and southwards to as far as Manchester and Liverpool.
The large ITV Granada Region also needs splitting so that Lancashire/ South Cumbria become ITVNorthWest, the Isle of Man becomes ITVManx and Manchester/Merseyside/Cheshire/High Peak remain ITVGranada- the area around Kendal and Windermere can then be transferred from ITVBorder to ITVNorthWest to enable these areas to get more localised news- Lancaster and Preston being more local to Kendal than Workington or Dumfries. The alternative is for ITV-Granada to lose the Isle of Man, all South Cumbria along with northern Lancashire- which would be transferred to ITV Border’s transmission area: Being part of a transmission area with a population of 1.5 million rather than almost seven million folk ought to greatly improve coverage for Cumbria, northern Lancashire and the Isle of Man. ITV Border would, in the process sever links with ITV Tyne-Tees and ideally provide separate opt-out programming for viewers of their regional bulletins on the Isle of Man as well as maintaining and enhancing the existing opt-out programming for their viewers in southern Scotland. The main programming from their studios in Carlisle could then concentrate on the enlarged Cumbria/North Lancashire area and this operation could be re-named ITV Border NorthWest to reflect the new transmission area.
Only when this is done will all parts of the NorthWest of England and the Isle of Man have a Regional Television service that covers the NorthWest effectively such that viewers from Crewe in the south to Carlisle in the north and Douglas on the Isle of Man have Regional Television Programming that serves them well and covers their communities: Yes it will require the BBC and ITV Granada to allocate more resources to Regional Television in the NorthWest of England; which ought to be possible when the BBC had to make £100 millions of savings as part of the Government’s Austerity drive in recent years. It is a lame excuse for them to say they then can’t find the extra £3- 4 million per annum to achieve the above. For instance, in these days of Netflix and LoveFilm why do both the BBC and ITV need to spend money on transmission in the small hours- when 90% of the population are asleep- so that some night owls are entertained?? Night shift workers have to work so don’t really get the chance to watch telly and people can watch films on YouTube, put a DVD on or switch over to a Sky Film Channel. What about the renumeration paid to get top talent? Is it really necessary for the BBC to spend £1 million or above on good quality actors, as they have done in recent years? The TV License Fee has just gone up to £150.50 a year, could not some of the extra revenue be used to provide a new TVRegion for coverage-starved Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man, with opt-outs for the Isle of Man and northern Cumbria? Where there’s a Will, there’s a Way!
Regional Television must cover the NorthWest of England and the Isle of Man in a manner that reflects the Regional Identity of both, not some contrived version of the NorthWest Region and the Isle of Man. People who live in towns and cities like Kendal, Barrow, Lancaster or Kirkby Lonsdale don’t feel it is the NorthWest News because Manchester, Merseyside and northern Cheshire dominate the coverage so it comes across as “Greater Manchester and Merseyside” rather than “North West”, particularly when other parts of the NorthWest feature so little and the northern third of NorthWest England is never covered because it is beyond the transmission area of the NorthWest Television broadcasters. Viewers on the Isle of Man, which is not part of the NorthWest of England, must feel quite insulted by lots of coverage of Manchester, Liverpool, Warrington, Stockport and the like- but not a mention of what is infact their own country. Everyone in the NorthWest of England and on the Isle of Man should feel that Regional Television output is relevant to their communities and covers the Region effectively, which is not the case at present. At the very least, the various heads of programming and news-editors of BBC NorthWest and ITV Granada ought to be aware of these issues and plan to do something about it and to be willing to commit extra resources to improve coverage for those areas where the regional output still fails to pass muster.
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