8th May 2022
Regional Television, as serves viewers at the rural northern and southern peripheries of North East England, is scarcely local or geographic-appropriate for viewers in those areas. In northern Northumberland, in particular, where areas local to communities are only going be in Northumberland, the eastern Scottish Borders, and East Lothian nearer Edinburgh the Regional News- coverage on BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) or on ITV1 News Tyne Tees as regards the local area is really poor. Over the last week BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) scarcely got north of the River Tyne at all and programmers actually covered South Cumbria better than Northumberland this week!! Typically, less than 10% of total news-coverage concerns rural Northumberland and- for viewers who live close to the Scottish Border- they would never get to hear about happenings over the Scottish Border into south-east Scotland: That’s because neither the two mainstream Regional TV News- services that serve North East England overlap across the Scottish Border for serious news- ever!
To the south of North East England is the very large, rural county of North Yorkshire, the largest county in England: Both BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) and ITV1 News Tyne Tees are broadcast to the northern two-thirds of North Yorkshire, whilst the south of the county gets Regional News programming from the Yorkshire version of BBC1 Look North and from ITV1 News Calendar (Northern version). None of these Regional TV News- services provide adequate local coverage nor are they geographic- appropriate across huge areas. Usually, North Yorkshire gets a bit more coverage than rural Northumberland, which is to be expected given the fact that more people live there and the county is some 70% larger than Northumberland. However, viewers in North Yorkshire typically only receive one or two news- reports about their county from BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) each night, even Cumbria is slightly better-covered. ITV1 News Tyne Tees and ITV1 News Calendar (Northern version) provide slightly better coverage of North Yorkshire, though rarely more than 20% of total coverage. None of this is satisfactory for viewers in (say) Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales or Scarborough on the coast where, if they are lucky, more than 20% of the news-coverage comes within an hours’ drive of where they live!
Yet Regional TV News- services provide an important Public service- informing folk of happenings in their region, if not within a distance that means what is happening is local. If local roads get blocked with snow in the winter, or if there is congestion on the A1 or the A69, a good Regional and Local TV News- service will inform folk what is happening in and near their communities so that they can make informed choices. The BBC1 and ITV1 Regions serving North East England are clearly too large because there are folk in the rural northern and southern peripheries of the transmission areas covered that do not get a satisfactory geographic- appropriate local news- service.
Unfortunately, as regards the provision of Regional Television, one of the policies of the current Conservative Government is to phase out the TV License by 2027: Whilst TV License- payers might be happy about not paying the £159- a- year Tax on Televisions, this is what pays for the BBC to provide high-quality national and local news and documentaries. Without TV License income the BBC will need to find alternative income from things like TV subscriptions, product placement on programmes and possibly even advertising: Even so, it will really struggle to make up the £3.75 billion a year loss from TV License funding. It is likely that the BBC will have to make serious economies and it is likely that the BBC will have the £500 million cost of providing Regional TV News- services in its sights.
If the BBC do decide to cut spending on Regional TV News- programming it is certain that North East England in general and rural counties like Northumberland and North Yorkshire in particular will see a reduction in the amount of news-coverage. It isn’t inconceivable that the BBC will shorten the week-night half-hourly bulletins for BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) to just 15 minutes. Straight away, that is a reduction in local news coverage because there will only be time for five or six news-features on BBC1 Look North, not ten (as at present). And most of the news-features will be more likely than not to focus on Tyneside, Wearside, and Teesside where most people live. Places like Otterburn, Wooler and Seahouses in rural northern Northumberland would get news about their areas about as often as a Blue Moon!
Another distinct possibility, if the BBC decide they must make deep cuts, is that the BBC1 NE/ Cumbria transmission Region is amalgamated with the BBC1 Yorkshire and BBC1 East Yorkshire/ Lincolnshire transmission Regions. The Regional TV studios in Leeds will then be the only one kept running serve the huge new BBC1 North transmission Region- with just the one BBC1 Look North! One hopes that ITV1 News Tyne Tees is still going then, because if not all of North East England would suffer a major loss of any geographically-relevant and local news-coverage that is readily available! Rural Northumberland would get almost no local coverage at all were the BBC to amalgamate all three BBC1 Regions between the Scottish Border and The Wash that are east of the Pennines: North Northumbrian viewers could then be encouraged by this Website to petition the BBC so that they could watch BBC1 Reporting Scotland– instead of news mainly about Leeds, Sheffield and Doncaster- because the coverage would have a better chance of being within an hours’ drive of somewhere like Berwick-upon-Tweed or Bamburgh if that happened!
In view of the importance of good Regional TV News-services it is vital that Regional TV continues to be well-funded. However, it has to be said that Government funding of BBC1 News- services, Regional or National, is an absolute no-no: News- reporters and journalists need to be able to report happenings for the benefit of viewers totally without fear or favour. State-funding of BBC News-services is a very bad idea, just as taxpayer funding of political parties is a very bad idea, because in a free and fair democracy reporters and news- readers should not be frightened off reporting anything critical of the Government (or the governing Parties) for fear of the Government cutting off BBC funding (or passing legislation to that effect). Any move to (or suggestion of) Tax-payer funding for the BBC will be resisted (and argued against) by this Website for those very reasons!
However, it is clear that the BBC is not going to be able to continue to provide the News- programming and Regional News- services it does without the TV License income. That said, a TV License, with revenues mandated from taxpayers was never a great idea because State funding of TV News broadcasting- under whatever guise- is useful for Governments to pressurise the BBC to provide coverage favourable to the Government and governing political parties. So how is it possible to ensure BBC1 Regional TV News is supported in future?
The first way of doing this is for the BBC Royal Charter to be amended by the Government so that it compels the BBC to spends a specified minimum proportion of its revenues, say 50%, on the provision of high-quality Local and National News and high-quality Documentaries within a specified time-frame (say two years). Then the BBC must be required to shed some of those types of programmes that can be provided by the market- like Soap Operas, Films, Daytime Chat Shows, Music, Sports, and Comedy- over (say) five years. In 2022 with Netflix and Amazon, along with Sky TV and ITV.Plc providing all of these without any State support the BBC should not be trying to provide all these too. This will help save Regional Television in North East England.
Secondly, both local and national Government, with the involvement of local communities should make it much easier for the BBC to raise funds in a number of different ways. Communities and local funding consortiums should be able to get together to help secure private funding and some of this will involve legal changes so that the BBC can raise money from a variety of income streams. This would help secure funding for new BBC1 Regions. Amongst those I suggest are:
- Local lotteries, if designed correctly and promoted- could raise serious sums of money.
- Local businesses and banks could be encouraged to sponsor local and Regional BBC news- services.
- The BBC could be made a Not-For-Profit organisation and legislation could be passed requiring Directors not to cream off profits, but to re-invest the money into improving BBC services for the benefit of the whole of the UK.
- The BBC should be encouraged to rent out studios and rooms when not in use,- for Conferences, filming groups, art groups, etc. Legislation should be passed to make this easier.
- The BBC should be encouraged to have shops and businesses on their premises that pay rent.
- When and where the BBC struggles to raise funds to support good Regional TV local communities should be able to come together to set up their own Community Local TV News- service that is Not For Profit.
- The BBC should be encouraged to sell any surplus stock and put any proceeds and savings into Governments bonds or a high-interest savings account to generate further revenues for its operations.
- Expert fundraisers and Finance Industry chiefs should be drafted in to the BBC to help it raise serious sums of money on the market for Regional and Local News. This should be done at the behest of local councils and communities.
- BBC Regional TV News-services could be made eligible for National Lottery support if they cannot raise the funds needed elsewhere.
- Better marketing of nature programmes (like David Attenborough’s) and documentaries. These could be sold by DVD on Amazon or sold in book-shops or newsagents. Local documentaries could be turned into DVDs and sold across the Region likely to be interested in documentaries of a particular area. This would help recoup costs of local TV documentaries.
These measures together could help develop some serious revenue streams for the BBC that would enable it to raise ££ millions just for Regional TV and for local high-quality documentaries. In addition, the BBC will need to be able to charge subscriptions for people to watch BBC programmes- and it needs to be able to do that in other countries (as much as depends on the British Government) so it can raise extra revenues this way. Advertising (for those who want BBC services free) and product- placement in programmes will also need to be allowed for maximum fund-raising. Finally, in the BBC Charter and in Parliament there needs to be legislative underpinning to protect the BBC from the whims of a future Government that does not like its reporting. A BBC Protection Committee could be established in Parliament to scrutinise the actions of any Government in relation to the BBC: That will help safeguard impartial news- reporting and our free Democracy in this country going forwards.
Now, about £20 million a year easily covers the cost of running a BBC Region like BBC1 NE/ Cumbria- covering the cost of studios, paying for heating, lighting, Insurance and the maintenance of transmission masts and signals. The above measures, taken altogether with local and Regional communities coming together to ensure funding for additional Regional TV News- services (and with help from the National Lottery if need be) could easily raise an additional £40 million annually for a Not For Profit BBC to provide funds for two brand new BBC Regions: A new BBC1 Northumberland Border News service for rural Northumberland, the Scottish Borders and towards Edinburgh and a BBC1 Tees North Yorkshire Regional News- service to cover southern rural County Durham, Teesside and all of North Yorkshire. West of the Pennines additional funds could be raised for a new BBC1 North West Regional News service just covering South Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man- with northern Cumbrians given a choice of getting this Regional News-service.
If local communities and local governments have the will they can bring about these changes. Even without Public or community funds “Local TV” services as such do exist, though not at the stage that they produce half an hour of news each night. The town of Hexham, in the Tyne Valley is a prime example of a town and the surrounding district that has a very local news-service- it is YouTube- based Hexham TV (here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk0s7GfPKbVGRHHjPTH_BcQ/featured). If there is the local and regional will to raise funds, it is certainly possible to fund for localised and more geographic- appropriate Regional Television News- services. This would be of great benefit to viewers in far-flung parts of the North East of England like up near Berwick-upon-Tweed, close to the Scottish Border north-west of Otterburn or in remote parts of the Yorkshire Dales.
However, time is passing, and the BBC is under increasing financial pressure. If viewers and their communities don’t mobilise and pressurise the BBC into improving, not just protecting existent not-very-good Regional TV News- services, then there is every chance that in ten years’ time that large areas of North East England have a choice of Regional TV News- services that are worse than those of today.