19th March 2018
The county of Lancashire covers a sizeable area, and folk from an even wider area, taking in Barrow in Furness in the north and folk living large towns like Southport, Wigan and Bolton to the south most definitely consider themselves to live in Lancashire and do not identify with a modern-named urban conglomerate called “Greater Manchester”. This large traditional county of Lancashire, leaving aside the major urban areas of Manchester and Liverpool along with the immediate surrounds covers a large area, with a population of two and a half million people. However this large area in which folk consider themselves to live in Lancashire gets 25% of news-coverage on BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports. Rarely does Lancashire -including the Furness Peninsula, Wigan, Bolton, Rochdale and Southport get more than 25% of regional news coverage and, very often, it is hardly even mentioned. This is an indictment of regional news coverage across a huge (and populated) swathe of the middle of the English North West.
But it is to Central and South Lancashire, including the former industrial towns of Rochdale, Bolton, Wigan and Southport that I wish to draw attention to. This area also includes Preston, Chorley, Skelmersdale, Blackburn, Burnley and Rossendale but excludes Blackpool, Lancaster and Clitheroe or Nelson. The population of this area alone is around two million.
This area of South and Central Lancashire gets little regional news coverage on the two television broadcasters responsible for Regional News Programming across the North West. If you go through the news reports you will see that Preston, Chorley, Wigan, Bolton, Rochdale, Skelmersdale, Southport, Blackburn, Rossendale, Accrington and Burnley get about 20% coverage (another 10% will cover the Isle of Man, northern Lancashire or South Cumbria) on a good day. That is, out of about ten news items on (say) North West Tonight there will be two items concerning this large area of South Lancashire with a population of two million people.
The ideal for local news for folk living in an area like this would be 80% news coverage from within 15 miles with the remaining 20% coverage from further out and up to an hour’s drive away; in the case of Central and South Lancashire the outwards zone will extend south as far as Crewe and northwards up the M6 as far as Penrith in Cumbria. To the east it will extend across the south-west Yorkshire Dales and as far as Leeds, though in the interests of preserving North West Regional Identity the overlap zone could stop at Bradford.
The news they get on BBC North West Tonight or on ITV Granada Reports at present is nothing like this: There might be 20% coverage for locations in Central and South Lancashire, with the remaining 75% (the news items from the Isle of Man or Buxton in Derbyshire will be irrelevant) being news mainly about Manchester and Liverpool and immediate surrounds. Of course folk living in these areas of Lancashire do travel to Manchester or Liverpool to go on major shopping trips or to go to pick friends up from the airport, so folk in Central and South Lancashire will have some interest in what goes on here. Nevertheless, they are much less likely to get news about Blackpool or the Lake District (and would hear nothing about the North Lakes), which are still locations people from Blackburn or Wigan would travel to on a day out in the summer.
People who live in towns like Rochdale or Burnley are within an hour’s drive of the towns of Halifax and Bingley in West Yorkshire, but the regional news that these folk get would never cover those West Yorkshire towns since there is a hard transmission boundary that runs along the border between Lancashire/ Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. This leads to people living on either side of this transmission boundary not hearing about even quite serious situations only a few miles away. This really is something that Regional Television has to address so that folk at the edge of their transmission boundaries get much better all-round coverage.
That said, despite some interest in news from outside their area, folk who live in this large area of Central and South Lancashire will be more interested in what happens in their locality, as indeed most people are. Whilst it would be prohibitively expensive to ensure that all folk in this large populated part of Lancashire get 80% coverage of events within 15 miles of them; there would be a way to make the news much more local to this area. It would be done if either ITV Granada or BBC NorthWest split their Region and provided separate programming for Lancashire and South Cumbria, from which opt-out programming could be provided for the Isle of Man. This would lead to an immeasurable improvement in regional news provision in Central and South Lancashire.
Even for locations like Bolton and Rochdale, in which folk identify more with Lancashire than Manchester and Liverpool (though the new Regional Programming would overlap south to include some Manchester and Liverpool news): Their being part of a new TVRegion broadcast to just Lancashire and South Cumbria (with separate opt-out programming for the Isle of Man, and for northern Cumbria if it joined) would lead to towns like Wigan, Bolton and Rochdale getting much more coverage.
Unfortunately, this is something that viewers in Lancashire will have to fight for because neither the BBC nor ITV Granada will spend an extra £3 million a year plus £1 million set-up costs for a new BBC or ITV NorthWest Region; unless pressure is brought to bear upon them.
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