BBC Cuts Portend an Uncertain Future for Regional TV in North East England

3rd November 2022

Dear Readers

Recent developments, as the BBC considers how to save money in the face of rising costs and the TV Licence fee being frozen until 2027, means that Regional TV in North East England faces a more uncertain future than it has done until now. Were BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) to be amalgamated with part or all of the BBC1 Yorkshire and BBC East Yorkshire/ Lincolnshire transmission Regions that would represent a dilution (and loss) of local, relevant news-coverage across North East England- and one that might befelt more acutely the further north one lives.

VIEW FROM THE MAIN ROAD TOWARDS THE BANDSTAND IN HEXHAM, NORTHUMBERLAND. THIS PART OF NORTHUMBERLAND GETS RELATIVELY LITTLE IMMEDIATELY LOCAL NEWS COVERAGE FROM BBC1 LOOK NORTH (NE/ CUMBRIA). IF CUTS TO BBC REGIONAL NEWS ARE IMPLEMENTED MORE WIDELY MOST OF THE “LOCAL NEWS” SEEN HERE COULD WELL BE ABOUT LOCATIONS OVER 100 MILES AWAY IN WEST AND SOUTH YORKSHIRE, AND IN LINCOLNSHIRE! PHOTO TAKEN BY IAN PENNELL IN OCTOBER 1992.

With regard to the BBC’s proposed changes two BBC1 Regions in the south-east quadrant of the country, namely BBC1 East (Cambridge) and BBC1 South (Oxford) are to be axed before Christmas and millions of viewers in those areas will not get relevant, all-round local news-coverage from then on (details here: https://rxtvinfo.com/2022/confirmed-two-bbc-tv-regions-to-close-within-weeks). Along-side this is the proposed merging of BBC Local Radio stations during afternoons, evenings and week-ends, and this is something that will impact upon listeners to BBC Radio Newcastle who live in Northumberland and who listen to it for local news whilst they travel to work and are on the go. It is likely that BBC Radio Newcastle will merge with BBC Radio Tees and BBC Radio Cumbria for more output, and at certain times there will, in effect, just be one BBC Radio England. News about the cuts to BBC Local Radio services can be found here: https://www.prolificnorth.co.uk/news/radio-news/2022/10/bbc-regional-staff-brace-sweeping-cuts-across-north.

Now, there may be an argument for merging some BBC Local Radio services to both provide better local radio that reflects regional and local affiliation better, whilst also saving money to put into improving Regional TV News-coverage. News that is watched on a television, where you can see pictures, commentary and maps showing where, when and what have much more impact on viewers than radio, which one listens to whilst doing something else. However, what the BBC are planning goes far beyond anything that is acceptable, especially as the BBC are just cutting to save money not to reinvest in someting better: With regards to the aims of this Website what the BBC proposes actually goes against better Regional TV for folk who live North of Tyne. If you live in Alnwick, Otterburn or Seahouses and put the radio on to find out about local road conditions as you drive home you will likely end up being told about the A19 in North Yorkshire, the A66 near Darlington or even the A590 near Barrow-in-Furness if Cumbria is included in the Regional simulcast. You would not know about the fallen tree on the B1340 from Alnwick to Seahouses until you see this great tree in the road with a “ROAD CLOSED” sign in front! So the amalgamation, and cutting, of BBC Local Radio services is serious and not without consequence.

However, it is what is happening to BBC1 Regional TV News- services that ought to be the greatest cause of concern: If the BBC can at all be allowed to get off with the idea that mothballing any BBC1 Regions is acceptable then what happens next year, in 2023, when we really are in recession in Britain, or the next time the BBC faces acute budgetary shortages? It is likely to be more northerly parts of North East England that will suffer even more acutely from irrelevant “local news” if BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) is merged with BBC1 Look North (Yorkshire) and BBC1 Look North (East Yorkshire/ Lincolnshire). The new BBC1 Look North (large North Region) would produce 70% coverage of Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and north-east Derbyshire, all 150 miles or more from somewhere like Seahouses or Wooler! A further 25% would be about Tyneside, Teesside, North Yorkshire and Cumbria- and perhaps one news-item in twenty would be North of Tyne. If that is what you get for “local news” you may as well not bother, but good Regional TV News that is local and which serves communities is a vital Public service. People need it to be informed of local job opportunities, nice places to visit nearby, bad weather on the roads and, occasionally, warned of danger like a masked gunman on the loose.

To that end the BBC must be made to realise that the provision of National News and Regional News are vital Public Services, like Public libraries. Of course, Regional TV cannot be paid for out of taxation in the traditional way Public Services are funded, the mechanism for raising money for news has to be via a body that is arms-length from the Government, so that news-reporting is unbiased and thorough without influence from whichever party is in power locally or nationally. Thus, TV Licensing forms a vital role. However, whatever the merits of reducing the TV Licence fee the BBC not only needs to be able to raise funds by other means (i.e., through subscription services) to pay for the programmes it provides there needs to be statutory legislation passed through Parliament that actively requires the BBC to provide a minimum spend on Regional TV News-services and BBC Local Radio (say £500 million annually), and to use that money to open another ten BBC1 Regional News-services (including re-opening the two Regional TV News-services they plan to mothball!).

One of the new BBC1 Regions that should be provided is a new BBC1 Northumberland/ Borders news- service which would cover rural north-west and North Northumberland, the Scottish Borders and East Lothian. This large rural area, equal in size to the entire area of North East England including part of North Yorkshire, is really poorly-served by all mainstream ITV1 and BBC1 Regional TV News-services. Even ITV1 Border’s Lookaround, which prides itself as a good local and Regional TV News-service for places near the Scottish Border, has just 20% coverage devoted to the north-west fringes of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. Most of Northumberland cannot get it anyway!

If the BBC face financial pressures they should only be permitted to cut non-Public Service programming normally associated with leisure- i.e., Sports, Soap operas, films, etc., for which (in 2022) there is a plethora of online platforms or Sky TV channels that provide it: A line needs to be drawn in the sand, and the BBC Charter should be strengthened to ensure the BBC focusses more on producing what the TV Licensing system was set up for- namely the provision of high-quality news and documentaries for the benefit of viewers in all parts of the United Kingdom. That includes news for viewers who live in rural northern Northumberland, where there are strong cultural and historic links to the Scottish Borders and towards Edinburgh. The cut off of Regional News at the Scottish Border from both BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) and ITV1 News Tyne Tees does not make for good all-round local news coverage for towns like Berwick-upon-Tweed, Wooler or Otterburn.

The BBC Cuts to Regional TV should be stopped in their tracks. People not only need to write to their local MPs, but also to the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS for short), the address of which is 100, Parliament Street, LONDON. SW1A 2BQ. The Government needs to be persuaded to take action to get the BBC to stop cuts to its vital Public Services, of which localised Regional TV News is- and for that it might be prudent to write to the Department of Culture Media and Sport Select Committee at DCMS Select Committee, House of Commons, LONDON. SW1A 0AA. Select Committees in Parliament scrutinise the great offices of state and put pressure on them directly. Write to the DCMS and the Select Committee scrutinising the DCMS.

Another vital tool is campaigning through opposition parties. One area where Conservative Governments are electorally vulnerable is when they can be charged- in the eyes of the voters- with presiding over cuts to vital Public Services. There’s the Northumberland branch of the Labour Party (details here: https://northumberland.laboursites.org/) and the Northumberland branch of the Liberal Democrats (details here: https://northumberland-ld.org.uk/en/). You don’t need to be a Socialist or approve of all these parties’ main policies to join their groups and encourage them to campaign against BBC Cuts to Regional TV: This is something that folk living in Northumberland, and indeed across North East England more widely, would be advised to do if they care about ensuring Regional TV- at least based in the North East- is maintained let alone strengthened further for more northerly rural areas.

Get your friends and family involved too. Consider clubbing together and travelling to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to protest peacefully outside BBC1 Look North’s offices at Barrack Road with a huge banner saying “NO CUTS TO REGIONAL TV IN THE NORTH-EAST!“. Yes, this is what the stakes are because you need to demonstrate a real strength of feeling about maintaining BBC1 Look North from Newcastle to pre-empt the BBC’s possible consideration of cutting it: This is the BBC Regional News-service that was fronted by the legendary Mike Neville, who was a household name across North East England and northern Cumbria for a period of thirty years! The BBC should be left in absolutely no doubt that they should not even dare to even consider cutting or mothballing the North East version of Look North.

This Website will, of course, continue keeping a very close eye out for developments like this. If there are cuts to any Regional TV in Northumberland and across the wider North East of England so much as even considered, you the loyal readers of this Website will be forewarned and encouraged to mobilise against such cuts.

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