A “Democratic Deficit” for Viewers in Northern North-East England

10th August 2022

Dear Readers

A consideration that viewers of Regional TV who live “North of The Tyne” in North East England is that there is a Democratic Deficit in terms of representation by, and choice of, Regional TV for viewers in Northumberland. This is borne out by the news-coverage in both BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) and ITV1 News Tyne Tees. In both these Regional TV News- programmes news-reports on happenings in Northumberland are sparse, save for the recent reports of Bird Flu on the Northumberland Coast and the recent arrival of Sandwich Terns on Coquet Island: Even the ITV1 Politics programme Around The House (which is supposed to cater for the ITV1 Border Region too) is very focussed on Tyneside, Teesside and Wearside and, if not, Cumbria or SW Scotland. This is not news or programming that is representative of the concerns of viewers who live in rural Northumberland.

However, if one does not wish to watch either BBC1 Look North or ITV1 News Tyne Tees because it is not local to Northumberland there is also a “Democratic Deficit” in terms of what one could watch instead. If you live in far western Northumberland, around Haltwhistle or Haydon Bridge, or in the far north of the county, around Berwick-upon-Tweed or Cornhill-on-Tweed, you should certainly be able to pick up the signal for ITV1 Border and watch Lookaround if you point your aerial west. For viewers in the extreme west of Northumberland Lookaround would provide plenty of news about Cumbria and south-west Scotland (plus the odd report about western Northumberland) so the news could be considered a bit more geographically-appropriate than the 80% coverage of Tyneside, Teesside and Wearside from ITV1 News Tyne Tees. However, for far northern Northumberland, the 80% coverage of Cumbria and south-west Scotland (just 20% of coverage is about the nearby Scottish Borders) from ITV Border Lookaround, would be even less geographically-releavant for North Northumberland than the serving from ITV1 News Tyne Tees. You would be better off getting That’s TV Edinburgh & South Scotland (Freeview Channel 8) or STV News at Six (East Scotland), which would give more coverage of Lothian and the Scottish, within an hour’s drive of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Unfortunately That’s TV Edinburgh & South Scotland is impossible to access from Northumberland unless one lives right on the Scottish Border, and one needs an STV account and Internet to get any version of STV News at Six anywhere immediately south of Berwick-upon-Tweed. In any case, these programmes focus mostly on Edinburgh (STV News at Six covers Glasgow too) with less news about the Scottish Borders. They do not cover Northumberland at all. The You Tube based Northumberland TV is not a proper Regional TV News-service although one can find out what is happening in local council meetings from the site: Details here https://www.youtube.com/user/NorthumberlandTV/featured.

All of this means that if you live in the large geographical area that extends north-west of a line from Ashington to Allendale up to the Scottish Border there is no proper Regional TV News-service on earth that properly serves your area and represents the concerns of northern Northumbrians! This really is not good enough for viewers for live in the sixth richest country in the World where just 0.1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is spent on keeping local communities informed and up-to-date about important happenings in their area! If we increased the spending on Regional TV to just 0.2% of GDP it would enable the BBC to provide another 100 Regional TV News- services across the UK, including (almost certainly) provision of a dedicated Regional TV News-service for Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

It is certainly time for viewers in Northumberland to put pressure on the Regional TV News-services that serve their county for them to make improvements: Email Amy Lea and Ian Payne at amyandian@itv.com regarding ITV1 News Tyne Tees‘ coverage of Northumberland. Since Amy Lea and Ian Payne also provide the Regional News for ITV1 Border Lookaround, they are perhaps in the best position to ensure North Northumbrians get more Scottish Border’s coverage and for viewers in the Scottish Borders to get more coverage of Northumberland so as to improve all-round Regional News-coverage close to the Scottish Border in Northumberland.

The BBC Regional News in Northumberland is arguably worse than ITV1 News Tyne Tees because BBC1 Look North serving Northumberland also caters for much of Cumbria, so the rural coverage is spread over a greater area. However, BBC1 Look North will be better for viewers in Hexham and locations west of there in west Northumberland, because northern Cumbria is within an hour’s drive and what happens in Carlisle and northern Cumbria may be better for those areas (this ensures these areas of west Northumberland get some all-round coverage, even if most of it is not immediately local), but that is certainly not true for Northern Northumberland. To write to BBC Look North (NE/Cumbria) to complain about coverage write to: look.north.comment@bbc.co.uk. Tell both the mainstream Regional TV News-services serving Northumberland that local news-coverage is not good enough, that just 10% coverage within fifty miles is not a good Regional TV News-service. If you live close to the Scottish Border explain that the cut-off of news-coverage just north of the Scottish Border means that you miss about on coverage of major happenings (like road accidents) that will be significant for your community. Explain that is not acceptable to just have reports of crime in Sunderland or Newcastle United’s performance but nothing on fatal road accidents just over the Border, the latter of which is more likely to affect your community.

In the meantime, viewers should shop around as best they can. If you live in Berwick-upon-Tweed, for instance, then watching STV News at Six (Central/East Scottish version) then catching up on You Tube-based Northumberland TV may provide you with a better feel for what is happening all-round locally than sticking with ITV1 News Tyne Tees. If you do this, be sure to explain that this is what you will do in your e-mail to Amy Lea and Ian Payne at ITV1 News Tyne Tees and your e-mail to programmers at BBC1 Look North (NE/Cumbria). A bit of market pressure will increase the impact of your correspondence. Get your local friends to do the same.

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