Virtually nothing specific on Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

Dear Readers

BBC Look North (covering the North East and northern Cumbria) featured a news- item about health officials in the Scottish Borders expressing concern about rising Coronavirus cases in neighbouring Northumberland: It is perhaps the only significant reference to rural Northumberland this week. The Regional News virtually never gets north of Tyneside and (when it does) its often just a general reference to Northumberland which, as a county, covers most of the geographical area of North East England. The reference to the Scottish Borders is perhaps the first time there has been a significant nod towards recognition of the fact that there are strong cultural and community links across the Border from Northumberland to the Scottish Borders since the summer (when there was a news- report on maintenance of the Union Chain Bridge over the River Tweed- where this marks the boundary between England and Scotland).

Over 200,000 people live in rural North and West Northumberland, many at a sufficient distance from Tyneside and Wearside such that significant happenings just over the border into Scotland have more of a bearing on their lives than what happens in Newcastle-upon-Tyne or Sunderland. A good Regional News service does not stop at the Regional (or national) Border nor at the transmission boundary beyond where one cannot see the Regional Programme in question. Overlap zones, for Regional and local news-coverage are important to ensure that viewers at the margins of the large transmission area in which BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) is received still get good all-round local news- coverage.

Most evenings, rural Northumberland is lucky to get one news- item of coverage (out of – usually- about ten news-items): The only happening reported on BBC Look North referring specifically to part of rural Northumberland this week was that of a fatal road traffic accident when a motorcyclist was killed, near the picturesque town of Bellingham, in the North Tyne valley. For locations that are forty, fifty and even over sixty miles north and north-west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne such a proportion of coverage of Northumberland (without overlap into the Scottish Borders) really does not make for a good local news- service for that northerly part of the English North East.

Regional News Programmers at BBC Look North and ITV Tyne Tees (which is now broadcast to all of Northumberland) would, of course, argue that since rural Northumberland has just over 200,000 people- compared to over three million who live in the vast transmission area stretching from near York in the south right up to Berwick-upon-Tweed: In the case of BBC Look North they would point out that they cover much of Cumbria (also covering a large area) too. However, that is no excuse- a minute could be shaved off the Sports coverage (football fans have other channels they can watch) to make room for news about rural Northumberland.

In the case of BBC Look North the transmission area is indeed huge: It is 150 miles from York up to Berwick-upon-Tweed and over 130 miles from St Bees Head (in West Cumbria) to Redcar, on the coast east of Middlesbrough. The programme is thus broadcast to all of North East England, most of North Yorkshire and most of Cumbria and the cities- Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sunderland, Durham, Middlesbrough, York and Carlisle take the lion’s share of coverage. It means that vast areas of rural Northern England from northern Northumberland to the North Lakes, the North Pennines and the northern Yorkshire Dales are covered acutely thinly. This is why central and southern North Yorkshire- including towns like Malton, Scarborough, and Harrogate- really should be transferred to the BBC Yorkshire Region (which might provide those areas with more relevant coverage) and (certainly) West Cumbria and the area immediately south of Penrith should be transferred to a new BBC North West Region that just covers Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man (this would be much better for West Cumbria and in keeping with Regional identity): This would then free up air-time (and resources) for BBC Look North to cover Northumberland (complete with overlap into the Scottish Borders) much better.

However, the BBC are unlikely to make provision for covering Northumberland better unless local people write in, and make clear that they feel their local areas are being overlooked. In the first instance you can contact BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) at: look.north.comment@bbc.co.uk . To contact ITV Tyne Tees email: ttvnews@itv.com.

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