One of the problems that viewers in rural Northumberland- and indeed across North East England face- with their choice of Regional Television News is that both the two main News- providers cover much the same areas and same items of news. Of course, the BBC1 North East and Cumbria version of Look North does cover Cumbria in output as well, about 15% of coverage, which does leave a bit less for North East England than is the case for ITV1 Tyne Tees Tonight – but there the differences end.
This is a situation unique to Britain- across the vast bulk of England and indeed all of Wales- the ITV1 Regional News for a location provides much the same news and geographic coverage as does the BBC1 Regional News- service for that same location. For example, in North West England BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports cover almost exactly the same transmission areas, produces the same geographic mix and areas in news- output and covers much the same stories. In most of Yorkshire, the BBC1 Yorkshire version of Look North and ITV1 Calendar Tonight News cover the same geographic area and coverage. Across the country, there is duplication of Regional News programming with many areas, chiefly the urban areas near the centre of the transmission Region getting heavy news- coverage (and mainly about the same things) whilst rural areas on the fringes of the BBC1/ ITV1 Region get little coverage- and never get to hear about anything just beyond the transmission boundary (even quite a serious development).
This is certainly the case across North East England- BBC1 Look North (North East/ Cumbria) and ITV1 Tyne Tees Tonight will both cover the riot in Newcastle, the murder in Sunderland and Middlesbrough Football Club getting a new manager. Neither of the programmes will cover the fatal road crash on the A 68 at Jedburgh or a train derailment at Dunbar- even if that would be of more concern to viewers who live in Otterburn or Berwick-upon-Tweed, respectively. Instead, North Northumbrians have a choice of “News mainly about Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Newcastle” from ITV1 Tyne Tees or “News mainly about Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Newcastle- and a bit of Cumbria” from BBC1 North East/ Cumbria.
This duplication of resources spent on Regional Television represents a waste, particularly if some areas get two news- services that both cover the area extremely well, whilst rural areas at the fringes get next to no local coverage from either ITV1 or BBC1 with neither main Regional News- services telling these rural viewers about quite major events and happenings just over the transmission boundary.
The current situation, with both BBC1 North East/ Cumbria and ITV1 Tyne Tees majoring on the urban areas (just because that is where more people live) means that the rural north of the transmission areas for both (i.e., Northumberland) is poorly served and North Northumbrians never get to hear about quite serious happenings just over the Border into southern Scotland. To a lesser extent, viewers in rural County Durham and rural northern North Yorkshire also miss out on really local news, though viewers in these areas can find out major events across the border into Cumbria on BBC1 Look North (North East/ Cumbria).
There is a solution to this problem and it’s called Collaboration: Rather than competing for the same viewers in urban areas, the programmers at ITV1 Tyne Tees and BBC1 North East/ Cumbria should come to an accommodation that does not increase costs for news -output across North East England- and which may infact reduce costs across both ITV1 Tyne Tees and BBC1 North East/ Cumbria- whilst at the same time help to ensure everyone in the Region has a Regional News- service that not only covers their communities well but provides coverage for everyone of serious happenings up to an hour’s drive or train- journey away (even if that means crossing the Scottish Border).
The best solution is one which recognises ITV’s dependence on private revenue streams whilst the BBC is funded by that well-known Tax on Televisions, that every household in the country has to pay (which, as of 1st April 2021 is now £159 per annum per household). This solution involves ITV1 Tyne Tees majoring the urban areas- Tyneside, Teesside, and Wearside- and providing more of the Sports coverage: Since ITV1 Tyne Tees does not have to cover Cumbria they could cover the urban North East well and cater for the supporters of Newcastle United, Sunderland Associated Football Club and Middlesbrough Football Club- and in the Summer cover Durham County Cricket Club. Most people in the North East live in these urban areas and a lot of them love Sport and- with less competition from BBC1 Look North (North East/ Cumbria) the reliably high numbers of viewers will keep the Advertising revenues coming. Programmers at ITV1 Tyne Tees will be happy with that.
The BBC, funded as it is by the Television Licence fee, can- in return- (and indeed should) cover the cities rather less, cover less Sport and cover rural North Yorkshire, western County Durham, and Northumberland more. In addition, they should provide some overlap coverage to the Scottish Borders, Dumfriesshire and East Lothian- for the benefit of viewers who live in Northumberland and North Cumbria. However, since Cumbrian viewers have the option of switching to ITV Border to get much more localised news about their county- and north of the Scottish Border, the priority must be to cater for Northumberland, rural County Durham, and rural North Yorkshire (where viewers don’t have that option) more. In the process, ITV Tyne Tees can become a repository for those viewers from Tyneside, Teesside, and Wearside who hate the Scots (because of the SNP and their stance on Brexit) so much- that they cannot stand any mention of happenings north of the Scottish Border, though fortunately that won’t be a majority of viewers because Northumbrians are fair and friendly!
The BBC, governed as it is by the BBC Charter, and instructed to provide relevant news for all parts of the United Kingdom will be safe-guarding its own future (and protecting itself from politicians agitating for the end of the Television Licence) would do well to provide a service that covers those areas not covered well by the ITV1 Regional news services. Viewers in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Otterburn or Wooler have strong links across the Scottish border and northern Northumberland has its own distinct communities well to the north of the urban North East of England- it would do programmers at BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) well to recognise this.
Collaboration between BBC1 North East/ Cumbria and ITV Tyne Tees (and indeed ITV1 Border) will also save money if the Regional news- services pool resources in terms of reporting on major happenings across the North East of England, Cumbria, and southern Scotland. Currently, there is the situation whereby if there is a riot in Newcastle both BBC North East/ Cumbria and ITV1 Tyne Tees each send a news- reporter to gather the information, speak to by-standers about what has happened, etc. This is a waste of resources across two broadcast networks. Instead, as part of the Collaboration between ITV1 Tyne Tees and BBC1 North East Cumbria there should be an agreement that ITV1 Tyne Tees sends its reporters to news-gather in the urban areas of Tyneside, Teesside, and Wearside, whilst BBC1 North East/ Cumbria reporters do County Durham, Northumberland, and North Yorkshire- and liaise with ITV1 Border for news-reports about Cumbria and southern Scotland. The Regional Programmers should then edit the news- items each sources- and then share the news- items with the other Regional Television networks as appropriate.
If ITV1 Tyne-Tees, ITV1 Border and BBC1 North East/ Cumbria can share the source- material of each other in this way and share (as appropriate) this would deliver significant cost- savings in terms of reporters, editorial and travel-times to far- flung destinations across the North East, Cumbria, and southern Scotland. It is not inconceivable that both ITV.Plc and the BBC would have better balance sheets and profits if they did this for all their Television Regions across the United Kingdom. All viewers of Regional Television will be happier too, as no-one would have to suffer a largely- irrelevant Regional News- service about distant cities whilst not getting to know about major happenings just across transmission boundaries. Certainly, if the above accommodation could be reached between ITV1 Tyne Tees and BBC North East/ Cumbria viewers in Northumberland and rural County Durham would enjoy a more relevant local Regional News- service.
However, none of this will happen unless you, the viewers of Regional Television in Northumberland and the northern North East of England write to the Regional Television Programme- providers and complain, suggesting collaboration between the Regional News services might be the way forward so that everyone in the Region is happy with the amount of coverage. Do write, don’t send an e-mail as a letter will carry more weight and be more likely to get noticed. The Regional Television News- Providers for ITV Tyne-Tees, ITV Border and BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) are:
ITV1 Tyne Tees/ ITV Border
Michaela Byrne, Head of News, ITV Tyne Tees and Border,
Television House, The Watermark, GATESHEAD. NE11 9SZ.
BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria)
Mr. Jon Roberts, Assistant Editor, BBC North East and Cumbria,
Broadcasting Centre, Barrack Road, NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE.