9th March 2021
Recently, there has been more coverage of Northumberland on BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria). On this evening’s Look North there was coverage of the proposed dualling of the A1 through Northumberland up to the Scottish Border and the re-opening of Belford station in northern Northumberland as part of a £7 billion infrastructure package over the next ten years. Also covered on tonight’s Look North was the row over a proposed 180 foot (55 metre) high steel structure to be erected near Kirkwhelpington, at the foot of the Cheviot hills in northern Northumberland. This is good news for Northumbrian viewers of Regional Television, but three news-items out of ten on just a couple of days then nothing local for days afterwards does not make a good Local and Regional Television service that Northumberland’s viewers can rely upon!
A good, reliable local and Regional news- service for a particular community is one that provides upwards of 30% of coverage of places within a 25 mile radius, or within half an hour’s travel time (whichever is the greater distance) of a community, with at least ten percent coverage of more significant happenings up to an hour’s travel time away (in all directions). A good Local and Regional news- service would also address issues and matters that directly affect people in the communities in question, provide interest and esteem viewers in those communities with Northern pride: This is done by providing coverage that recognises their Northern latitude and their geographic setting. This really does not happen for viewers who live north of Morpeth.
The Utopian ideal for a Regional News service is 80% of coverage within 25 miles or half an hour’s travel time, with just 20% covering more Regional and significant happenings further out and up to one hour’s drive or train ride away, or 50 miles away (whichever is the greater distance). The inner zone covers areas that are Immediate Local- within this zone are places that people in the community concerned would travel to on a daily or regular basis- to visit friends, close-by family relatives, go shopping or commute to work. In short, it covers those places that people in a community would be most interested in. Further away, but still within an hour’s travel time or 50 miles (whichever is the greater distance) are those places that people in the community would visit several times in a year, but without involving an overnight stay: These are those picturesque places that people might go out to on a nice day on a country drive, go to on the coast on a summer day, to meet up with close relatives who are a bit further away- or go on major shopping trips. This outer zone would be considered to be Regionally Local: Folk in a community would still be interested in (and like to be informed of) significant happenings in such areas over half an hour’s drive away but less than an hours drive (or train journey) away.
The Utopian ideal for Regional Television of 80% of news within half an hour’s drive is extremely unlikely to be deliverable on cost grounds for viewers in northern Northumberland- for someone in, say, Alnwick that would mean 80% of news just about Northumberland provided by a bespoke Local Television service. Would local folk pay £30 more per annum in their Television Licence to pay for it- there are just over 100,000 households in Northumberland and they would all have to pay this to raise the £3 million per annum to fund a new Regional News service with new state-of-the-art studios based in Alnwick or Morpeth, recording equipment and reporters? It seems unlikely that people would be willing to fund it, particularly given the backlash over over 75’s having to pay for their Television Licences! But the BBC could be required to trim it’s World Service provision in countries hostile to the UK and switch off totally between 1.am and 5.am (like they used to)- night owls have a plethora of other digital channels providing films and sport in 2021! The BBC could then use the savings to fund Regional News opt-outs for areas like North Northumberland- so that there would be 15 minutes of much more localised content for viewers in places like Alnwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Wooler- complete with overlap coverage north into the Scottish Borders thereby recognising the strong links between Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
However, for North Northumbrians, there is no way that the two main Regional News services that they get from ITV Tyne Tees or BBC North East/ Cumbria comes close to this ideal. The Regional News output is also a bit slanted towards the metropolitan urban concerns of Tyneside and Teesside (i.e. Sport, regeneration of city centres or drug problems); or larger ex-heavy-industry issues like unemployment, run down town- centres and cruddy- looking estates pertaining to former mining towns like Seaham and Consett- where the issues addressed are a long way from the northern rural issues affecting Border communities in places like Otterburn, Wooler, Norham or Cornhill-on-Tweed in far northern or north-west Northumberland: There the matters are those pertaining to hill- farming, tourism and- indeed- whether cross- Border trade could be affected by Scotland becoming an independent country.
Whether the flagship North East England Regional News bulletins satisfy the criteria for what people living in the North East expect of their Regional News bulletins, whether it satisfies the criteria of being local and about places that folk frequent or addresses issues that affect them on a regular basis does depend where one lives: Viewers of Regional Television who live east of the A1 and near the urban conurbations of Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, Sunderland, Tynemouth or Middlesbrough will find there is sufficient “Immediate Local” coverage about matters that impact them- with some coverage of major happenings in places further away- to be happy with the content. ITV1 Tyne Tees’ Tyne Tees News Tonight is probably the go- to Regional News programme for folk living east of the A1 as more of the content will be Immediate Local and not diluted with some coverage of Cumbria (as is the case with BBC Look North). Further to the west of the A1, the communities of the Durham dales, the northern Yorkshire Dales and the south side of the Tyne Valley in southern Northumberland would get a more local service from BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) since what happens in Sunderland and Teesside will become less of a concern, but parts of Cumbria will be within an hour’s drive and viewers would only find out what is happening in North and East Cumbria from BBC Look North.
However, it is clear that you get north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and north of the A69, the proportion of the “Local News” from either BBC Look North or ITV Tyne Tees’ Tyne Tees News Tonight falls off rapidly with every few miles travelled north and north-west- such that by the time you get north as far as Alnwick typically less than 20% of the news- coverage is about what happens within half an hour’s drive and with both the main Regional News outlets for North East England some 40 to 50% of the coverage concerns happenings over an hour’s drive or train journey (or over 50 miles) away to the south: There is a big skew in that coverage- it is almost exclusively about places well to the south (or far to the south-west in the case of BBC Look North coverage of Cumbria). The news will also often concern metropolitan or industrial- town matters about shops, drug crime, high-street regeneration, Sports events or crime-ridden estates- a long way from the concerns of farmers at the foot of the Cheviots or fishermen working in Craster.
There are two things that viewers living in rural and North Northumberland can do to try and rectify this state of affairs: The first thing is to write to point out that one does not find the news- coverage on BBC Look North or on ITV1 Tyne Tees particularly local or relevant. For BBC Look North write to: firstname.lastname@example.org. For ITV Tyne Tees write to email@example.com. If you are not satisfied with the reply you can then email OFCOM you can complain online here https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/?a=96944.
Secondly, viewers can seek out alternative Regional News programming that might provide more local coverage of where they live or about areas of interest within an hour’s drive that one’s official Regional News outlets will not cover. In the case of communities in northern and north-west Northumberland it is possible if one has Sky Television or Freeview to tune in to ITV Border (Scotland) which often covers North Northumberland as well as the Scottish Borders in output in their flagship week-night news- programme Lookaround. If one is not tech-savvy they can get their Sky or Freeview technician in for a one- off £150 to tweak the relevant digi-box so that ITV Border (Scotland) is picked up instead of ITV Tyne Tees. There is also a local You Tube service called Northumberland TV (link here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRjaNG8hxEey9jHfGPaSuVg). One can then watch these and supplement it with BBC Look North, to find out what is happening to the south- or just watch Northumberland TV on You Tube and ITV Border (Scotland)- which produces two Regional programmes regularly for viewers in southern Scotland, namely Border Life and Representing Border.
If you do decide to switch to ITV Border (Scotland) and Northumberland TV then be sure to let BBC Look North and ITV Tyne Tees programmers know you are seeking out these alternative sources for local news because that is more relevant to your community: That will maximise the impact of what you write to BBC Look North and ITV1 Tyne Tees when you complain about the amount of North of Tyne coverage- because the programmers will be worried about losing viewers and (in the case of ITV1 Tyne Tees- revenue).