Viewers in rural Western County Durham and northern Yorkshire Dales also get little local news- coverage in Regional TV bulletins

4th July 2021

Dear Readers

I live in the extreme north-east of Cumbria near the remote village of Nenthead in the North Pennines: The North Pennines and surrounding rural areas covers a really large area and for the purposes of Regional Television News- coverage. It is bounded by the Tyne gap and A69 to the north, the A68 then the A1 south of Darlington to the east, the A684 from Northallerton to Sedbergh in the south and a line running parallel to (but five miles eastwards of) the M6 in the west.

VIEW TOWARDS NENTHEAD FROM THE A689 JUST WEST OF THIS VILLAGE NEAR TO THE CUMBRIA/ NORTHUMBERLAND BORDER ON 9TH FEBRUARY 2018. THIS WAS A FINE BUT COLD SNOWY DAY LOCALLY, SNOW AND ICE BEING SOMETHING THAT AFFECTS LOCATIONS ABOVE 300 METRES’ ELEVATION IN THE NORTH PENNINES IN WINTER MUCH MORE THAN IN THE SURROUNDING LOWLANDS OF TYNEDALE (NORTHUMBERLAND) AND THE EDEN VALLEY (CUMBRIA). HOWEVER, NEITHER THE NORTH PENNINES NOR THE UNIQUE ISSUES FACING PEOPLE LIVING THERE GAIN MUCH MENTION IN THE TYNESIDE- BASED REGIONAL NEWS- BULLETINS SERVING THE NORTH PENNINES

This huge area of the North Pennines and northern Yorkshire Dales is home to almost 100,000 inhabitants and this is a significant proportion of the numbers of viewers who would watch (say) ITV1 Border’s Lookaround news- programme. Most of this area receives Regional News- programming from the North East, although most of the Cumbrian viewers along the western and north-western edges of the North Pennines can receive ITV1 Border programming. Cumbrian viewers around and just east of Sedbergh can also tune into BBC1 North West Tonight. But for most viewers in this area, including Alston Moor in east Cumbria, the choices are ITV1 Tyne Tees News or BBC1 Look North (North East/ Cumbria).

None of the main Regional News services serving the North Pennines and northern Yorkshire Dales cover those areas particularly well. Many of the rural communities in these locations are not only at least an hour’s travel time from Tyneside or Teesside, but they are also an hour’s drive from Carlisle and over two hour’s drive from Whitehaven or  Workington (West Cumbria) or Dumfries (south-west Scotland).  This is certainly true of the very rural community of Alston Moor, where I live and the upper Eden Valley around Brough and Kirkby Stephen where- on any given day- about 20% of the news- coverage might be about locations within an hour’s drive of one’s community.

Cumbrian viewers who live westwards of the Cross Fell range and in all the eastern side of the Eden Valley are fortunate in that they can pick up ITV1 Border, from which coverage of Cumbria is very good although not much of it is east of the M6. Further east your ready choices are ITV1 Tyne Tees or BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) with 85% coverage about North East England (and little of this is coverage westwards of the A68 or of the northern Yorkshire Dales- where folk also receive North East- based Regional TV programming).

For viewers who live in these remote North Pennines communities, whose lives are far-removed from the urban areas of North East England to the east and Carlisle/ West Cumbria to the west Regional Television News- coverage is not good enough. Some of the news will be Regionally local (i.e., over 30 minutes away but less than an hour’s travel time away) but much of it won’t even be that. Very little news-coverage (if any) will be Immediate Local, that is about happenings within a 30- minute drive of one’s community. To some extent, folk in very rural areas have to travel further to towns to see doctors, dentists, go shopping or go to work, but in 2021 folk can order much of what they need over the Internet (so that argument holds less than it used to).

However, the population of this large geographical area will never be deemed sufficient for Regional News- broadcasters to provide opt-outs just for the North Pennines. However, what can happen is for the Regional News- providers, particularly the North East -based ones, to be made very aware of the large rural hinterlands towards the west of their transmission areas (and to the north across Northumberland) that need more coverage. A couple of news-items about the North Pennines a night would make a huge difference to  viewers living in (say) Allenheads or Garrigill watching BBC Look North: These North Pennines’ viewers would greatly appreciate their communities being covered instead of places that they seldom travel to hogging all the news- coverage.

A bit further south, viewers in towns like Brough, Middleton-in-Teesdale or Hawes are left even less- impressed with coverage mainly of Tyneside, Wearside, or Teesside, with a little bit of Carlisle and the Lakes thrown in (90% or more of the coverage would be over an hour’s drive away). Viewers in the Richmondshire area of North Yorkshire could switch over to ITV1 Calendar or the Leeds-based version of BBC1 Look North (if they could pick these signals up) to try to gain more coverage of their county and of the Yorkshire Dales, in practice they will find 85% coverage of urban West/ South Yorkshire plus northern Nottinghamshire in the coverage (which is even further away than the urban North East or Carlisle!). All things considered, there remains a large rural area covering the western third of North East England, the northern Yorkshire Dales and rural Cumbria well east of the M6 where viewers do not get very localised news- coverage, and often neither do the subjects covered have much direct relevance to the lives of people in this large rural hinterland of northern England.

If you live in these areas, drug crimes on Tyneside, busy hotels in the Lake District or Nissan axing jobs in Sunderland- will not speak to you about your concerns. As a farmer in the North Pennines, you will worry about late spring snowfalls killing lambs or summer rains making hay-harvesting impossible.

Most folk living in small towns like Haltwhistle, Alston, Brough- or Keld (in the northern Yorkshire Dales)- will have had little cause to visit Sunderland, Durham City, Teesside or- in the North West- Whitehaven or Cockermouth (and they will have been unlikely to have done so except just a few times in their lives). With regards to my own family (who have been born and bred on Alston Moor) I can count on one hand the times myself or my parents have visited Sunderland, Durham City and Teesside, although we attended Sunderland several times in the 1990’s. I went to Sunderland with my brother and uncle in February to help my niece (who was living there) move house- and that was a first for myself since 1995. Neither myself, not my parents (with the possible exception of my brother) have ever been to Cockermouth or Whitehaven, towns which are up to two hours’ drive away.

The BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) transmission area covers a huge area encompassing all of North East England, the northern two-thirds of North Yorkshire (in itself the largest county in England) and the northern two-thirds of Cumbria (Cumbria is the second- largest county in England). In this huge transmission area, which extends well over 100 miles from the Scottish Border to Harrogate and over 100 miles west- to- east from St. Bees Head to Middlesbrough there is a large geographic area (accounting for some 40% of this entire area) which stretches from near the Scottish Border to the A684 which runs east to west along the far south of the BBC North East/ Cumbria transmission area- and which is bounded by the A68 and North Yorkshire A1 in the east and a north-south line running parallel to- but just east of- the M6 in the west. And yet this huge geographical area encompassing the North Pennines, the northern Yorkshire Dales and the Hadrian’s Wall countryside between Carlisle and Corbridge gets very little local news- coverage.

Regional News Programmers at the BBC will undoubtedly point out that BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) is a Regional News-programme providing Regional News, which is (by that definition) not strictly local. There are two major issues with that argument: Firstly that people watch the Regional News (advertised by the BBC as “The News Where You Are” just before the Regional News bulletins) to find out what is happening in their community and the surrounding communities they frequent for work, shopping or leisure. Secondly, the BBC Charter stipulates that the BBC must provide output that is relevant to people in all parts of the United Kingdom. Since the North Pennines covers quite a large geographical area with local issues and concerns different to other parts of North East England or Cumbria (many of the communities here are over 300 metres above sea-level so issues surrounding heavy winter and even spring snowfalls -compounding isolation from distant towns- is much more of a concern that it is in the surrounding lowlands)- it follows that BBC Regional News programming should cover the North Pennines and northern Yorkshire Dales regularly in keeping with BBC Charter obligations: But they don’t!

However, it is not just BBC1 Look North (North East/ Cumbria) that barely covers the North Pennines. ITV1 News Tyne Tees seldom acknowledges that there is life west of the A1 at all and even ITV1 Border’s flagship  Lookaround programme does not cover locations to the east of the M6 much (even though some 50% or more of the coverage is about Cumbria). Viewers in South Cumbria receive BBC1 North West Tonight and although there will often be something about Cumbria on the programme most nights, seldom do they concern themselves with anywhere east of the M6 (particularly not if it’s just north of their transmission area)- so North West Gypsies don’t get told about Appleby Fair!

Thus, viewers who live in the North Pennines, Hadrian’s Wall country, the upper Eden Valley and the northern Yorkshire Dales (which, incidentally extends west to take in Sedbergh and Garsdale Head- just over the border into Cumbria) have no real alternatives to poor local coverage wherever they are. Viewers who live in County Durham west of the A68, Richmondshire in North Yorkshire or Tynedale in Northumberland would do well to email BBC Look North at:  look.north.comment@bbc.co.uk and complain about the absence of coverage of the more rural western parts of North East England, whilst reminding them of the BBC Charter obligations. Viewers on Alston Moor, in Cumbria who cannot easily pick up ITV1 Border can do the same explaining that there is a large rural area between the A68 in the east and the M6 in Cumbria that hardly gets any attention!

Viewers of Regional Television who live in eastern Cumbria, east of the M6 (with the exception of Alston Moor in the extreme east of the county) can get ITV1 Border which, it has to be said, covers the county extremely well. That said -and loath as I am to criticise ITV1 Border’s flagship Regional News programme Lookaround (because it does provide a very good Local/ Regional News- service for its viewers overall) locations in Cumbria that are east of the M6 are not even covered well on ITV1 Border. However, it is fair to say that the Cumbrian Pennines- from Sedbergh and the upper Lune Valley in the south through upper and eastern Eden to Brampton in the north gets better coverage on ITV1 Border than the Durham Dales, Richmondshire and Tynedale get covered on ITV1 News Tyne Tees or BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria). Even so, there is still room for improvement and ITV1 Border could cover the North Pennines more- even overlapping into upper Weardale, Teesdale and Tynedale- for the benefit of viewers in the east of Cumbria. ITV1 Border can be emailed at: btvnews@itv.com: Do write in and let them know that the North Pennines is a major hinterland bordering and extending over eastern Cumbria- and that this area needs more coverage.    

If viewers are not happy with the reply from BBC1 North East/ Cumbria or from ITV1 Border they can take their complaint about poor local coverage to the Right Hon. Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport at the following address:

Right Hon. Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Secretary of State,

Department of Digital Culture Media & Sport, 100 Parliament Street, LONDON. SW1A 2BQ

It is best to write, rather than email if one has been knocked back by the BBC  because a written letter, marked F.A.O Right Hon Oliver Dowden, is much more likely to get past Spam- filters and Secretaries. If enough people write in there is more likelihood of Regional TV News Programmers in Newcastle or Gateshead (ITV1 Border’s Lookaround is produced in Gateshead) being reminded from on-high of their responsibilities to viewers in large rural parts of their transmission areas.

In the meantime, viewers who live in the North Pennines and northern Yorkshire Dales can explore how they might get better local coverage for themselves even if the BBC in the North East, ITV Tyne Tees and ITV1 Border make no changes. Viewers in Tynedale in Northumberland can make a point of watching You Tube based Hexham TV (website address: https://hexhamtv.com/), because that covers Tynedale- on the northern side of the North Pennines- well. Unfortunately, the remainder of the North Pennines have no dedicated local TV service that they can tune into, although if you live in the Cumbrian Pennines you would be better watching ITV1 Border in conjunction with BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria) to maximise your likelihood of gaining coverage of events within 30 minutes’ drive of your home. Viewers who live on Alston Moor would do well to try to tune into ITV1 Border, rather than stick with ITV1 Tyne Tees because that way they gain a higher chance of finding out what is happening locally, then they can watch BBC1 Look North to get the news from a bit further afield.

Unfortunately, there are no very local TV news- services for the Durham Dales (Weardale, Teesdale or upper Derwentside), so viewers in north-west County Durham could supplement their viewing of BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria)- which will provide one with better all- round coverage than ITV1 News Tyne Tees (the latter of which seldom gets west of the A1, let alone the A68). Viewers in north-west County Durham could watch the You Tube based Hexham TV (which will cover areas still local but just north of them). Viewers in Teesdale have no specialised local TV service either but the same advice applies over with regards BBC1 Look North vs. ITV1 News Tyne Tees– BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) will provide better all- round coverage than ITV1 News Tyne Tees and the same argument applies for viewers living in the northern Yorkshire Dales.

Viewers in rural Teesdale in County Durham and the Richmondshire area of North Yorkshire have no local TV service, but they can -instead of watching ITV1 News Tyne Tees get more “relevant local news” from the following sites in this Internet age, namely:

  1. Our Yorkshire Farm(!): Day to day life at Ravenseat Farm, near Keld, upper Swaledale. If you are a farmer in Swaledale the “news” you will get from this is more local than anything you will get from Regional TV, likewise for farmers living in rural Teesdale. This link has up-to-date news and clips from Amanda Owen, a full-time shepherdess who owns Ravenseat Farm:  https://www.facebook.com/yorkshireshepherdess.  This farm featured in a BBC1 series called Our Yorkshire Farm. The Twitter link has some interesting clips which one can watch: https://twitter.com/AmandaOwen8/ . Whilst this is not a Regional TV News service in any way, if you live in rural northern North Yorkshire or rural south-west County Durham (and you have Internet) you will get more sympathetic coverage and relevance to your lives from the video-clips than you will get off BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria), let alone ITV1 News Tyne Tees.
  • That’s TV North Yorkshire- Freeview Channel 7- is available in North Yorkshire. It has news-coverage of the county and is much more likely to cover the local area than either of the mainstream Regional TV News channels. Link to it here: http://www.thats.tv/north-yorkshire/.    
  • County Durham Live has a good deal of news mainly concerning County Durham, there should be something covering the Durham Dales in it: Although it is mainly a news- website it does have short video clips covering significant events. Website here: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/all-about/county-durham.   

In order to have a maximum impact on the News Programmers at BBC1 Look North (NE and Cumbria) and ITV1 News Tyne Tees, viewers in the North Pennines who receive their output not only need to complain about the lack of coverage than comes within an hour’s drive of their communities, they also must demonstrate that there are alternatives that they are prepared to watch- or indeed use- as their source of local news instead: Otherwise there is no real pressure on programme- producers to make sure all parts of their transmission area feel that they receive sufficient appropriate local news- coverage.  

The six options for local news listed above (including Hexham TV mentioned above) are all valid dependent to some extent where you live in the North Pennines or northern Yorkshire Dales. If you are a farmer who lives in rural Swaledale then “Our Yorkshire Farm” and the “Yorkshire Shepherdess” Facebook page will speak to you about your concerns, and it is local to your area.  So, if you are a farmer who lives near Thwaite, Muker or Reeth in Swaledale, northern North Yorkshire, tell BBC1 North East/ Cumbria that you will watch Our Yorkshire Farm and watch clips off Amanda Owen’s Twitter profile to get local news that is more relevant to you- or, if you want to be really radical you can tell them that you will try and get ITV1 Border’s Lookaround which has excellent coverage of rural issues topically-relevant to you in not-far-away Cumbria (even though the Cumbrian Pennines does not get a massive amount of coverage off ITV1 Border)!

Of course, ITV1 Border covers Cumbria in general extremely well, but Cumbrian viewers of ITV1 Border programming who live east of the M6 should write in to remind ITV1 Border Programmers that Cumbria includes more than just Carlisle and the Lake District- and tell the programmers that the rural east of the county feels neglected in news- coverage. But viewers who live just over the county boundary- in North Yorkshire, County Durham and the Tynedale area of Northumberland should also try ditching ITV1 News Tyne Tees in favour of ITV1 Border’s Lookaround. It’s not difficult to do if you have Sky TV or have an ITV Hub subscription (just £3.99 a month to join, by the way). You could still watch BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) for North East coverage and, though ITV1 Border’s coverage will be well to the west of you (and northwards of you in the case of the southern Scottish coverage), it does focus on those rural concerns that are more likely to be your concerns (i.e., hill- farming, rural public transport) because ITV1 Border’s transmission areas are amongst the most rural in the UK.

The sacrifice of a little inconvenience to spite oneself with the main Regional TV News- producers that are not covering your area can, in some circumstances, be a strong and positive campaigning force for good. If just ten percent of the viewers in the North Pennines and the northern Yorkshire Dales switched over to watch ITV1 Border’s Lookaround and watched one of the six Local News services (listed above) – in lieu of BBC1 Look North and ITV News Tyne Tees the main Regional TV News Providers serving the large area between the M6, the A68 and the A684 will be forced to sit up and take note- particularly if those viewers also wrote in to the Tyneside-based Regional TV News producers to say why they were switching channels. ITV.Plc, in particular, does not like losing viewers because that means less advertising revenue and, therefore, money- and “Money Talks” or (in this case) the threatened loss of it does!          

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