Regional News for North East England must be funded better. Northumberland and North Yorkshire continue to suffer little Local News- coverage.

8th May 2022

Dear Readers

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!

KIELDER RESERVOIR IN AUGUST 2021. IN THIS FAR FLUNG CORNER OF RURAL NORTHUMBERLAND VIEWERS OF REGIONAL TELEVISION WANT LOCAL NEWS ABOUT NORTHUMBERLAND WITH SOME OVERLAP COVERAGE INTO THE SCOTTISH BORDERS. VIEWERS HERE DO NOT GET A GEOGRAPHIC-APPROPRIATE REGIONAL TV NEWS- SERVICE AT PRESENT, AS BOTH BBC1 LOOK NORTH (NE/ CUMBRIA) AND ITV1 NEWS TYNE TEES HAVE BARELY 10% COVERAGE GETTING NORTH OF THE TYNE. POSSIBLE BBC CUTS TO REGIONAL NEWS AS TV LICENSE FUNDING IS REMOVED BY 2027 MEAN THAT NORTHUMBERLAND COULD FACE EVEN POORER LOCAL NEWS-COVERAGE. THAT IS, UNLESS LOCAL COMMUNITIES CLUB TOGETHER TO GET THE GOVERNMENT TO FORCE THE BBC TO EXPLORE OTHER FUNDING STREAMS AND TO TIGHTEN THE BBC ROYAL CHARTER REQUIREMENT TO MAINTAIN BETTER REGIONAL TV NEWS- SERVICES.

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:

  1. Local lotteries, if designed correctly and promoted- could raise serious sums of money.
  2. Local businesses and banks could be encouraged to sponsor local and Regional BBC news- services.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The BBC should be encouraged to have shops and businesses on their premises that pay rent.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. BBC Regional TV News-services could be made eligible for National Lottery support if they cannot raise the funds needed elsewhere.
  10. 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.

Regional TV in North East England by 2050. A Worst Case Scenario

21st August 2021

This is a Website that campaigns for better and more geographic- appropriate Regional Television for rural Northumberland. However, there is a real chance that what viewers in northern parts of North East England, indeed all of North East England and including North Yorkshire will end up with an even worse and less local choice from the BBC and from ITV in terms of Regional and Local News- coverage appropriate to where they live in future. However, if local viewers and communities are informed in advance they can plan ahead to mitigate against some of the worst possible decisions of Regional News broadcasters- and even to help themselves to get more geographic- appropriate Local and Regional News-coverage despite the BBC and ITV.Plc undertaking cost- cutting measures.

I wish to look at the possible consequences of a worst- case scenario where viewers lose the Regional Television services that just about provide local news-coverage- ITV1 News Tyne Tees for most of North East England and ITV News Border (Scotland) and Lookaround, Representing Border and Border Life for North Northumbrians that can receive it. For viewers in western North Yorkshire, rural County Durham and south-west Northumberland there is also the loss of BBC1 Look North (North East/ Cumbria)- which with some coverage of Cumbria means good all-round local news- coverage for such areas of western North East England today, this Regional news Programme may also be axed in future decades in a worst- case scenario.

Now, this worst-case scenario for Regional TV in North East England would arise as a result of Recessions and consequent Austerity brought about by spiralling Government Debt and Inflation- and the very expensive commitments to Net Zero and De-carbonising Britain to tackle Global Warming (of which- by the way- I am not personally convinced is so all-round scary as to justify seriously hobbling the UK Economy with high taxation and regulations): In addition there occurs something called a Carrington Event whereby high- powered charged particles from Solar flares erupt from the surface of the Sun and within 24 hours penetrate the Earth’s magnetic field to fry electric grids, TV masts and computer electronics across much of the World- including the UK: There is more on how and why we may be due for a devastating Carrington Event in the next few years in this article https://electroverse.net/minor-cme-leads-to-geomagnetic-storm-grid-failure-all-but-guaranteed-by-2024/.

Such a Carrington Event resulting in a powerful Solar Flare frying electronics across Britain- leaving Britain without lighting, computers, Internet (and yes, Regional Television) for months would seriously hobble the UK Economy. But organisations with computer equipment, recording equipment and transmitters- i.e., Regional Television News services will be inflicted with a particularly huge bill to repair all the fried electronics and transmitters. Consider the huge disruption caused to viewers in North Yorkshire and Teesside- many of whom still have not got all their television channels back- after the Bilsdale transmitter in North Yorkshire caught fire (more of this here: https://www.itv.com/news/tyne-tees/2021-08-10/telecommunications-mast-in-north-yorkshire-has-caught-fire), the results of a Carrington Event affecting Britain would make the Bilsdale transmitter disruption seem like a walk in the park on a nice day in comparison!

So we have a combination of massive Covid 19 debts, a UK Economy crippled by anti Global Warming measures (the Government should concentrate on real threats, like a Carrington Event- making sure our National Grid has measures in- place to mitigate one), then a major Carrington Event wiping out Britain’s National Grid and electronics infrastruture. That will cause a big Recession, there will be big Austerity- and there will be huge political pressure on both the BBC and ITV.Plc to make economies whilst finding the resources to repair damaged infrastructure: Due to rising opposition from the cash-strapped Public and from Politicians the TV Licence Fee is scrapped in this scenario and the BBC- for the first time in its existence- has to rely on prescriptions, advertising and other forms of private funding (which, following a deep Recession, is hard to come by).

In this worst- case Scenario the BBC discovers it cannot afford to offer so many Regional TV services (as well as other programming) whilst a very market- led Conservative Government allows ITV.Plc to drop Regional Television altogether so it can remain solvent in the face of high reparation costs to the Television Infrastructure fried by a massive Solar flare, falling advertising revenues (not only from firms going bust but also more viewers switching to Online viewing platforms- once the effects of the Carrington Event have been repaired). That same Government then allows the BBC to mothball and amalgamate some of its BBC Regions to survive without TV Licence funding. So by the Year 2050 only BBC1 provides Regional News and the TV Regions are reduced to just nine covering all of the UK- and the Regional News programmes are just 15 minutes a night- with just five-minute Regional bulletins at lunchtime and on Saturday evenings. BBC Local radio also disappears- to be replaced by BBC Radio for each of the Nine British Regions- as follows:

  1. Scotland
  2. Northern Ireland
  3. North West England, North Wales and Isle of Man
  4. Large Northern England Region including northern Cumbria, NE England, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire
  5. Central England (both East and West Midlands)
  6. South West England, South Wales and Channel Islands
  7. Eastern England including East Anglia, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Bedfordshire
  8. London
  9. South East England- from Kent to Hampshire up to Oxfordshire.

It is clear that the only Regional TV News readily available across North East England and North Yorkshire will be a new BBC1 Look North covering the North East, all of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire- and probably still northern Cumbria (unless they are transferred to the BBC1 North West and North Wales Region). Viewers in North East England generally would suffer three news-items about West or South Yorkshire, a fourth about Lincolnshire/ East Yorkshire and typically just one news-item about North East England. The Regional News would just be a microcosm of the National News- with 90% of the news not being local to most of the population- and for viewers in Northumberland or northern Cumbria, the situation would be doubly worse with 90% of the “Local Coverage” coming from well over 120 miles away!

Viewers in Northumberland, in particular, would be insulted by being told by the BBC “Now for The News Where You Are”- followed by news about Sheffield, Leeds, Hull and Bradford- and it would be a horrible change from possibly getting ITV News Border and Lookaround in North Northumberland, and even much worse compared to ITV1 News Tyne Tees or BBC1 Look North (North East/ Cumbria) for southern Northumberland, County Durham, Tyneside or Teesside. Perhaps North Northumbrians could campaign to get the Scottish Regional News instead- thus maximising the chance of the “Local News” getting within 100 miles of their homes!!

One hopes that there is fierce resistance from Northumbrian folk and from Geordies to the prospect of losing ITV1 Border Lookaround, ITV1 News Tyne Tees or BBC1 Look North (North East/ Cumbria version), that the strong resistance of other areas of Britain threatened with a big loss of Regional Television (such as Cumbrians and southern Scots losing ITV1 News Border Lookaround)- as soon as ITV.Plc and the BBC even mooted their plans- would kill off such plans to axe valuable Local and Regional TV News services stone-dead! However, even if the worst should happen there should, by 2050, be a greater range of Online and Digital TV services that provide more localised News, of which outlets such as You Tube-based Hexham TV (here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk0s7GfPKbVGRHHjPTH_BcQ) and also Northumberland TV (see here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRjaNG8hxEey9jHfGPaSuVg) are an early sign. Enough Northumbrians, affected by the loss of specific North East England/ Scottish Borders- specific Regional Television might club together to set up a North East Community TV service or a Northumberland/ Borders Community TV service paid for by local viewers- and others a little further afield who might like to watch it. Communities in North Yorkshire might also club together to provide a more localised North Yorkshire Community TV service that covers North Yorkshire, with a bit of overlap coverage north to Teesside and Durham, a bit west into eastern Cumbria and a bit south into West Yorkshire and East Yorkshire- nowhere else.

Should large numbers of viewers across North East England suffer a loss of more tailored geographic- appropriate Regional News coverage in this way, one hopes that there would still be recourse to complain to one’s MP and to demand that the BBC provide more geographic- appropriate coverage. One would be justified in complaining too, were that to happen: If Regional TV is just a smaller version of the National News- in which over 90% of the news is not local- just what exactly is its purpose? If the BBC do ever decide to have just nine TV Regions covering all of Britain, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands they may as well just abolish Regional Television altogether because the content would not be local to most viewers across the length and breadth of the country!

One would still be able to put pressure on the BBC to provide an opt-out for North East England, or to reserve at least two of the five news-items to be about North East England, by promising to switch over to whatever Digital or Online Local TV alternatives as there may be by 2050, but even if not pressure from angered MPs whose constituents complain about Regional TV should be enough to stop the new BBC1 Look North (super North area) from ignoring viewers north of Northallerton. If Scottish Television (STV) still does Regional TV, North Northumbrians and North Cumbrians could lobby to be able to get Regional TV for southern Scotland and to be included in that STV Region- which would become a kind of reincarnation of ITV News Border if STV acceded to such demands! But, as already mentioned, hopefully there will be Digital/ Online Local News options by 2050- born out of the loss of the ITV1 Regions and some BBC1 Regions- that will provide more localised geographic- appropriate news for Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, for North East England and also for North Yorkshire by then: The progress of technology, more TV channels and more Online/ You-tube like TV Services means that will be more likely.

By 2050, there will be very few people still alive that won’t have a Computer- or don’t know how to use a Computer in order to watch something over the Internet, so if the BBC is the only provider of TV Regional News by then they are likely to lose an awful lot of Viewers to Internet-based competition if they just have the nine super-regions covering all of Britain, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands!

Suffice to say, in conclusion, but if there is any hint that ITV.Plc will bring about the loss of ITV News Border or ITV1 News Tyne Tees, or if there is a hint of the BBC threatening to amalgamate the BBC1 North East/ Cumbria transmission Region with the BBC1 Yorkshire and BBC1 East Yorkshire/ Lincolnshire transmission Regions , this Website will mobilise fully against it: I would- were I to become privy to anything remotely like this ever happening– encourage all Viewers of Regional Television in Northumberland, other parts of North East England, in North Yorkshire and northern Cumbria to write to their MPs and to OFCOM to object most forcefully against such plans!!

Good- quality timely Regional News for rural Northumberland and North Yorkshire is actually a vital Public Service.

Dear Readers

North Northumbrian viewers of Regional Television would be best- served by a Regional and Local News- service that covers Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, with some overlap coverage south to cover Tyneside, Wearside, and County Durham, some overlap west to cover Carlisle and North Cumbria and overlap northwards to cover the East and West Lothian areas of Scotland and as far north as Edinburgh.   

Alas, such a localised news- service does not exist: The main reason why the main Regional News- broadcasters- both ITV.Plc and the BBC assert that they cannot provide more localised, relevant Regional Television for areas like northern Northumberland is that they cannot afford it.  But is that acceptable in view of the fact that our national and Regional News- broadcasters really need to inform folk of what is happening locally, so that viewers can make informed choices to stay safe, find local work, travel (and avoid traffic jams) or to visit the best beautiful rural scenery less than an hour’s travel- time away? This Website asserts that it isn’t and that good quality, timely and relevant Local and Regional News- provision is as much of a Public Service as libraries, waste-collection services, and reliable public transport in rural areas.

To that end, good local and Regional News- provision should be funded as if though it were a Public Service, not left 100% to market- forces. However, neither Regional nor Local News can be funded by the Government because of the certainty that the Regional News- providers would be pressurised to conform to the Political views of their paymasters. This does happen with the BBC, because politicians in Parliament can threaten to remove TV License funding if the BBC is perceived as “Biased against the Government”: Thus, it is important that Regional and Local Television is funded privately- by advertising, product-placement, sponsorship, affordable subscriptions, and even local lotteries- if combined- are all legitimate sources of funding.

So how can Regional Television be funded? None of the main broadcasters providing it will do so if left entirely to their own judgement to provide good- quality local and timely news relevant to viewers in every significant part of the United Kingdom. Funding from the Public Purse with tax-payers paying for it is out of the question if we want impartial news- coverage where Regional News Programmers feel free to report whatever is relevant to their viewers without fear or favour regarding the Party of Government (whether National or Local Government, Conservative or Labour or (in Scotland) the Scottish National Party).

Now good quality Regional News Programming with half- hour programmes on weeknights and other regular shorter bulletins in mornings, at lunchtime and weekends costs at least £5 million annually. So, for every county in Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and with special news-services for the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Orkney and Shetland Isles and Scottish Western Isles will cost at least £500 million annually: Two questions about this sum of money- Firstly can this money be raised privately? And (if so) can ITV.Plc and/or the BBC be made to spend it on Regional Television?

It is a fact that OFCOM require ITV.Plc and (in Scotland) also STV.Plc to produce so many hours (typically two, and in the case of ITV Border, three hours) of Regional/ Local News- Programming for all parts of the UK ( more details here: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0021/106545/PSB-Nations-and-Regions-Compliance-Report-2017.pdf). And they provide it- or they are threatened with sanctions including fines or even the possible loss of their Public Service Broadcast (PSB) licences. The BBC Charter governs the amount of Regional News output for each BBC1 Region and stipulates that it must be timely, high-quality, and relevant news for all parts of the United Kingdom.

The situation with Scottish Television (STV) providing (in effect) four separate Regional Television News-services for the Glasgow and western Scotland, Edinburgh and eastern Scotland, Dundee and NE Scotland and Aberdeen/ Inverness and northern Scotland- whilst ITV1 Border covers southern Scotland shows that independent television with private funding- streams only can provide four or five Regional TV News services for a population of just 5.47 million people (population of Scotland in 2020- https://www.statista.com/statistics/367788/population-of-scotland/ ). So, it is certainly possible for every distinct geographical area with a population just over one million people to have their own dedicated Regional TV News service without recourse to tax-payer cash or even that famous Tax on Televisions called the TV License fee! 

It is clear, however that neither BBC1 nor ITV.Plc would provide dedicated, high-quality Regional and Local News- services without OFCOM and the Sword of Damocles hanging over them, threatening to fine them if they did not provide good high- quality Regional News services. That said, unless either is able to raise £500 million a year to fund Local and Regional TV for each county then, even with their backs against the wall like this they would not be able to provide it.

Then there is the fact that both the BBC and ITV.Plc provide Regional news services that are near- duplicate services across large part of the UK- including in Wales, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. This is definitely true in the North East of England where both ITV1 News Tyne Tees and BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) cover a similar transmission area stretching from the Scottish Border to York, though BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) does cover northern Cumbria too (in practice, the amount of coverage of Cumbria means that similar amounts of coverage of different parts of North East England are the same for both Regional News services that serve North East England. Both cover the urban areas of Tyneside, Teesside, and Wearside extensively, yet both sparsely cover rural Northumberland and rural North Yorkshire. I’m all for choice, but the choices should complement rather than duplicate Regional News coverage in an area.

For example, a viewer in Otterburn, Northumberland, close to the Scottish Border should get a choice of a Regional News- service covering North East England because folk living there do commute to Newcastle or Sunderland for work, have family living there, etc. but that should be complemented by a Northumberland/ Scottish Borders News service- so that viewers get to find out what is happening locally- but also in the other direction to them.

In the south of the BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) and ITV1 Tyne Tees transmission areas is North Yorkshire- the largest county in England. The extreme south of North Yorkshire is served by the Leeds or Hull- based versions of BBC1 Look North and by ITV1 Calendar (Yorkshire) News programming. Neither of these Regional News- services, whether Yorkshire- based or North East- based, provide more than about 15% coverage of the county. For someone living near Masham, Scarborough or Hawes, which ever Regional news- service one uses perhaps 25% of the coverage gets within an hour’s drive of one’s community and even less is within 30 minutes’ drive- which is truly appalling. Thus, the county of North Yorkshire needs its own bespoke Regional Television News service with 90% coverage of the county and the remaining 10% being overlap of significant happenings a bit further afield- up to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north, westwards as far as a line running from Morecambe to Keswick and southwards as far as Sheffield.   

The fact that the BBC is effectively funded via taxation means there should be a much greater onus on it to provide those high- quality News services that a commercial organisation (like ITV.Plc) cannot afford to provide. However, despite this, for northern Northumberland it is ITV1 Border’s Lookaround that provides more coverage of northern Northumberland and the Scottish Borders (though, sadly, viewers in Northumberland are stuck with ITV1 News Tyne Tees instead). The BBC itself does not have a bespoke TV Region for Northumberland and the Scottish Borders at all and neither ITV.Plc nor the BBC have a bespoke Regional TV programming for North Yorkshire! That is an argument for scrapping the TV Licence fee altogether.

However, I start with the premise that a purely commercial organisation left to its own devices would not provide timely, relevant, and high- quality local news. The TV License fee has a role, but the BBC should be able to offer subscription services and have product placements and lotteries, too to raise more money. Then the TV License fee can then be reduced- to (say) £100 a year with additional legal safeguards built in to prevent political interference, which means a new TV Licence Safeguarding and Impartiality Bill passed through Parliament (i.e.,  that it cannot be increased or decreased without the approval of 80% of the House of Commons and that former Councillors, Mayors or MP’s standing for a Political Party cannot be appointed to news/ editorial positions within the BBC). It is vital to reduce financial influences that could pressurise the BBC from being biased politically but it is vital to ensure that it can raise additional funds commensurate with its special requirements.

Programmes like films, comedies, soaps, and sports programming could be provided on a commercial basis, so if the License fee were just £100 per household that would still raise £1.5 billion annually even if just 60% of households paid it. This would provide the funds for high-quality documentaries, National News and Regional News (including BBC Local Radio). BBC1 costs just over £1.1 billion, BBC Local Radio costs £150 million and BBC online costs just over £200 million. Total cost about £1.5 billion. However, a considerable proportion of programming on BBC 1 (like East Enders) is not what the BBC primarily for- and it should make up the shortfall with private revenue streams like merchandising and product- placement. Assuming that 25% of the material on BBC 1 is not high- quality news, documentaries, etc. (but that it costs half as much) that’s still £137 million for BBC1- enough to run 27 additional Regional TV News- services (costing £5 million each) to provide more geographic- appropriate Regional coverage for areas like rural Northumberland/Scottish Borders and another news- service specifically for North Yorkshire. It would then also be possible to have separate Regional programming for other distinct large areas that fall between the cracks in Regional TV coverage like North Wales, North Lancashire/ South Cumbria, a separate news- service for the small country that is the Isle of Man and additional bespoke Regional News for the Highlands and Islands of northern Scotland: All these are major areas suffering a lack of bespoke Regional News programming today.

Indeed, with a new funding model and new stipulated BBC1 Regions along with new stipulations for ITV1 Regions across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland there could- in effect- be one local TV service for each county. If there is the will in Government, and with OFCOM and the co-operation of both ITV.Plc and the BBC it is financially possible. In 2021 Regional Television is not as constrained by transmission masts/ coverage as programming can be provided digitally and via Internet/ local broadband connections too (and broadband is getting faster and more reliable all the time).

I reiterate the importance of good- quality, timely and localised Regional and Local News as a vital Public-service. To that end, those broadcasting Regional News, those overseeing them (like OFCOM), and the Government (which makes policy) have a collective duty to see to it that it is provided and that it is relevant for wherever one lives in the United Kingdom. That includes Northumberland and North Yorkshire. 

Good Regional News-coverage cannot be left purely to Market forces -although the fact that people can choose whichever TV Region is appropriate to them means that each Regional News provider will be under pressure to provide relevant geographic- appropriate all- round Local News coverage for all their viewers:  However, with the right regulatory framework much more localised Regional News can be provided with a TV Licence fee (with broadcast organisations much better- protected from political coercion with stronger legal protections of this source of public funds) and a mix of Private revenue- streams.

In the meantime, viewers living in rural Northumberland or in rural North Yorkshire would do well to write to BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) (email look.north.comment@bbc.co.uk) and ITV1 Tyne Tees (email amyandian@itv.com)  in order to explain that Regional TV coverage is not especially geographic- appropriate for their community. If you live in rural Northumberland you could explain that there are alternatives like You tube- based Hexham TV (website here: https://hexhamtv.com/), and that ITV1 Border (Scotland) (which one can get via Sky TV or off the Internet if the sinal from this Regional programming cannot be accessed) would provide more coverage of northern Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. North Yorkshire viewers can draw attention to That’s TV North Yorkshire, which can be found on Freeview channel 7 at 6.pm on week-days.

Mere complaints do little to change Regional TV programming, but complaining whilst illustrating viable alternatives are available brings the full power of market- forces to the Regional News- programmers, i.e., that they must improve the service they offer for their viewers or lose custom.                           

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!          

North Northumbrians Would Benefit from Collaboration between BBC1 Look North and ITV1 Tyne Tees

The Coast at Alnmouth, Northumberland. Rural Northumberland would benefit from collaboration between ITV1 Tyne Tees and BBC1 Look North (NE and Cumbria) so that rural areas like much of Northumberland get better local news-coverage. (Photo courtesy of bobmcp @ Pixabay )

May 2021

Dear Readers

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.

NE99 2NE.

Geographically- appropriate Regional Television News in Northumberland

9th March 2021

Dear Readers

Recently, there has been more coverage of Northumberland on BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria). On this evening’s Look North there was coverage of the proposed dualling of the A1 through Northumberland up to the Scottish Border and the re-opening of Belford station in northern Northumberland as part of a £7 billion infrastructure package over the next ten years. Also covered on tonight’s Look North was the row over a proposed 180 foot (55 metre) high steel structure to be erected near Kirkwhelpington, at the foot of the Cheviot hills in northern Northumberland. This is good news for Northumbrian viewers of Regional Television, but three news-items out of ten on just a couple of days then nothing local for days afterwards does not make a good Local and Regional Television service that Northumberland’s viewers can rely upon!

A good, reliable local and Regional news- service for a particular community is one that provides upwards of 30% of coverage of places within a 25 mile radius, or within half an hour’s travel time (whichever is the greater distance) of a community, with at least ten percent coverage of more significant happenings up to an hour’s travel time away (in all directions). A good Local and Regional news- service would also address issues and matters that directly affect people in the communities in question, provide interest and esteem viewers in those communities with Northern pride: This is done by providing coverage that recognises their Northern latitude and their geographic setting. This really does not happen for viewers who live north of Morpeth.

The Utopian ideal for a Regional News service is 80% of coverage within 25 miles or half an hour’s travel time, with just 20% covering more Regional and significant happenings further out and up to one hour’s drive or train ride away, or 50 miles away (whichever is the greater distance). The inner zone covers areas that are Immediate Local- within this zone are places that people in the community concerned would travel to on a daily or regular basis- to visit friends, close-by family relatives, go shopping or commute to work. In short, it covers those places that people in a community would be most interested in. Further away, but still within an hour’s travel time or 50 miles (whichever is the greater distance) are those places that people in the community would visit several times in a year, but without involving an overnight stay: These are those picturesque places that people might go out to on a nice day on a country drive, go to on the coast on a summer day, to meet up with close relatives who are a bit further away- or go on major shopping trips. This outer zone would be considered to be Regionally Local: Folk in a community would still be interested in (and like to be informed of) significant happenings in such areas over half an hour’s drive away but less than an hours drive (or train journey) away.

The Utopian ideal for Regional Television of 80% of news within half an hour’s drive is extremely unlikely to be deliverable on cost grounds for viewers in northern Northumberland- for someone in, say, Alnwick that would mean 80% of news just about Northumberland provided by a bespoke Local Television service. Would local folk pay £30 more per annum in their Television Licence to pay for it- there are just over 100,000 households in Northumberland and they would all have to pay this to raise the £3 million per annum to fund a new Regional News service with new state-of-the-art studios based in Alnwick or Morpeth, recording equipment and reporters? It seems unlikely that people would be willing to fund it, particularly given the backlash over over 75’s having to pay for their Television Licences! But the BBC could be required to trim it’s World Service provision in countries hostile to the UK and switch off totally between 1.am and 5.am (like they used to)- night owls have a plethora of other digital channels providing films and sport in 2021! The BBC could then use the savings to fund Regional News opt-outs for areas like North Northumberland- so that there would be 15 minutes of much more localised content for viewers in places like Alnwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Wooler- complete with overlap coverage north into the Scottish Borders thereby recognising the strong links between Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

However, for North Northumbrians, there is no way that the two main Regional News services that they get from ITV Tyne Tees or BBC North East/ Cumbria comes close to this ideal. The Regional News output is also a bit slanted towards the metropolitan urban concerns of Tyneside and Teesside (i.e. Sport, regeneration of city centres or drug problems); or larger ex-heavy-industry issues like unemployment, run down town- centres and cruddy- looking estates pertaining to former mining towns like Seaham and Consett- where the issues addressed are a long way from the northern rural issues affecting Border communities in places like Otterburn, Wooler, Norham or Cornhill-on-Tweed in far northern or north-west Northumberland: There the matters are those pertaining to hill- farming, tourism and- indeed- whether cross- Border trade could be affected by Scotland becoming an independent country.

Whether the flagship North East England Regional News bulletins satisfy the criteria for what people living in the North East expect of their Regional News bulletins, whether it satisfies the criteria of being local and about places that folk frequent or addresses issues that affect them on a regular basis does depend where one lives: Viewers of Regional Television who live east of the A1 and near the urban conurbations of Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, Sunderland, Tynemouth or Middlesbrough will find there is sufficient “Immediate Local” coverage about matters that impact them- with some coverage of major happenings in places further away- to be happy with the content. ITV1 Tyne Tees’ Tyne Tees News Tonight is probably the go- to Regional News programme for folk living east of the A1 as more of the content will be Immediate Local and not diluted with some coverage of Cumbria (as is the case with BBC Look North). Further to the west of the A1, the communities of the Durham dales, the northern Yorkshire Dales and the south side of the Tyne Valley in southern Northumberland would get a more local service from BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) since what happens in Sunderland and Teesside will become less of a concern, but parts of Cumbria will be within an hour’s drive and viewers would only find out what is happening in North and East Cumbria from BBC Look North.

However, it is clear that you get north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and north of the A69, the proportion of the “Local News” from either BBC Look North or ITV Tyne Tees’ Tyne Tees News Tonight falls off rapidly with every few miles travelled north and north-west- such that by the time you get north as far as Alnwick typically less than 20% of the news- coverage is about what happens within half an hour’s drive and with both the main Regional News outlets for North East England some 40 to 50% of the coverage concerns happenings over an hour’s drive or train journey (or over 50 miles) away to the south: There is a big skew in that coverage- it is almost exclusively about places well to the south (or far to the south-west in the case of BBC Look North coverage of Cumbria). The news will also often concern metropolitan or industrial- town matters about shops, drug crime, high-street regeneration, Sports events or crime-ridden estates- a long way from the concerns of farmers at the foot of the Cheviots or fishermen working in Craster.

There are two things that viewers living in rural and North Northumberland can do to try and rectify this state of affairs: The first thing is to write to point out that one does not find the news- coverage on BBC Look North or on ITV1 Tyne Tees particularly local or relevant. For BBC Look North write to: look.north.comment@bbc.co.uk. For ITV Tyne Tees write to pamandian@itv.com. If you are not satisfied with the reply you can then email OFCOM you can complain online here https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/?a=96944.

Secondly, viewers can seek out alternative Regional News programming that might provide more local coverage of where they live or about areas of interest within an hour’s drive that one’s official Regional News outlets will not cover. In the case of communities in northern and north-west Northumberland it is possible if one has Sky Television or Freeview to tune in to ITV Border (Scotland) which often covers North Northumberland as well as the Scottish Borders in output in their flagship week-night news- programme Lookaround. If one is not tech-savvy they can get their Sky or Freeview technician in for a one- off £150 to tweak the relevant digi-box so that ITV Border (Scotland) is picked up instead of ITV Tyne Tees. There is also a local You Tube service called Northumberland TV (link here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRjaNG8hxEey9jHfGPaSuVg). One can then watch these and supplement it with BBC Look North, to find out what is happening to the south- or just watch Northumberland TV on You Tube and ITV Border (Scotland)- which produces two Regional programmes regularly for viewers in southern Scotland, namely Border Life and Representing Border.

If you do decide to switch to ITV Border (Scotland) and Northumberland TV then be sure to let BBC Look North and ITV Tyne Tees programmers know you are seeking out these alternative sources for local news because that is more relevant to your community: That will maximise the impact of what you write to BBC Look North and ITV1 Tyne Tees when you complain about the amount of North of Tyne coverage- because the programmers will be worried about losing viewers and (in the case of ITV1 Tyne Tees- revenue).

Rural Northumberland receives hardly any coverage whatsoever either on BBC Look North or ITV Tyne Tees. ITV Border (Scotland) could come to the rescue.

There was a news report on broadband being rolled out in mid-Northumberland on ITV Tyne Tees this evening (https://t.co/Wc9uFj1M0H?amp=1). It was the first news- item from anywhere significantly North of Tyne for several days. It is very clear that viewers of Regional Television who live in Northumberland more than twenty miles north and north-west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne do not get good effective local news- coverage. It also causes discontent for viewers to have little or no coverage of their area, none at all of places to the north of them (because these places happen to be just over the Border into Scotland) but plenty coverage of locations an hour’s drive (or further) to the south.

BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria), which is received by all of Northumberland arguably provides even worse coverage of the county than ITV Tyne Tees. Aside from a report on a prison near Morpeth, almost all of the county (except the urbanised south-east corner) has not been covered for ten days: This is not, perhaps, surprising for a Regional Television service that has a transmission area extending from Ripon, in southern North Yorkshire right up to the Scottish Border, just north of Berwick-upon-Tweed- and extending across most of Cumbria too.

The fact remains is that the North East Regional Television news- broadcasters cannot cover such a huge area and provide good effective news- coverage that keeps everyone happy across such a massive area in a half-hour programme: Viewers in Cumbria will want much more news about Cumbria and (certainly) west of Carlisle and south of Penrith- they would want a more North West flavoured Regional News Programme, viewers in North Yorkshire will want more coverage of their county with some coverage of the North East but further south will also want some coverage of the major Yorkshire cities and surrounding areas. In northern Northumberland, viewers will want more coverage of locations within an hour’s drive of them- i.e. Northumberland with some overlap into the Scottish Borders and towards Edinburgh.

The BBC North East/ Cumbria transmission area is certainly too big and needs trimming back: If West Cumbria and the North Lakes were returned to BBC North West (with BBC North West required to cover Cumbria properly by reducing some Sports coverage) and the more southerly portion of North Yorkshire- south of Thirsk put in the BBC Yorkshire Region, it would be possible for BBC North East to concentrate more on neglected rural areas like northern and western Northumberland. Cutting a minute off Sports coverage would also free up resources so that rural Northumberland and rural County Durham (west of the A68) could be covered- with some overlap coverage into the Scottish Borders too. The result would be a significantly improved Local and Regional News Service for viewers in towns like Bellingham, Otterburn, Cornhill-on-Tweed and Wooler in Northumberland and towns like Middleton-in-Teesdale and Stanhope in County Durham.

Sports fans are unlikely to suffer too much from a minute trimmed off coverage of Newcastle United on BBC Look North- there are now multiple Sports Channels they can access on television: Besides, a Regional News service should really prioritise providing just that- News.

However, it is possible that Regional News Providers in the North East would balk at producing any overlap coverage into the Scottish Borders for fear of upsetting Brexit-supporters who live in North East England (and who cannot stand Nicola Sturgeon/Scottish folk because of their perceived stance on Brexit). So, there is another solution, one that will make North Northumbrians happy.

This solution involves the television transmitters at Chatton and Berwick-upon-Tweed being tweaked so that all of northern Northumberland receives the Scottish version of ITV Border, the programmers of which still provide coverage of Berwick-upon-Tweed for the benefit of viewers in the Scottish Borders. Since ITV Tyne Tees and ITV Border are produced nowadays from the same site in Gateshead, there should be little problem with collaboration so that viewers close to the transmission boundary between ITV Border (Scotland) and ITV Tyne Tees gain a better all-round news-service. This could involve a pooling of resources so there is more Northumberland news- gathering, with news produced that could be used for both ITV Tyne Tees and ITV Border (Scotland). Postcode mapping could also be used so that viewers in Otterburn, Rothbury and Widdrington pick up ITV Border (Scotland).

It is unlikely that, on the Scottish side of the Scottish Border viewers of ITV Border (Scotland) object to (perhaps) 10% more coverage of Northumberland since they have lived with coverage of Berwick-upon-Tweed and some coverage of Cumbria for a long time. Since Cumbrian viewers of ITV Border receive the English (or Cumbrian) version reducing some of the coverage of Cumbria in lieu of more Northumberland coverage won’t cause any grief- and it is certainly more relevant for viewers in the Scottish Borders.

However, for rural northern and north-west Northumberland,ITV Border (Scotland) would provide a much better news- service. Viewers in places like Seahouses, Bamburgh and Alwinton will finally have a real choice of Regional News, they could watch BBC Look North (with news mainly about places an hour or more away) or they could enjoy a local news-service that also recognises their strong cultural and historical links across the Border into Scotland.

Westernmost Northumberland- that is locations west of Hexham- could be post-code mapped to receive the English version of ITV Border (which manly covers Cumbria), rather than ITV Tyne Tees. This would put western parts of Northumberland into a TV sub-region that has less than one-sixth population than the ITV Tyne-Tees transmission area, so rural communities like Allendale, Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge would stand a much better chance of being covered: These areas would also receive coverage of Carlisle and northern Cumbria with which these rural areas of western Northumberland have more affiliation than with the urban North East.

At a stroke, ITV Border (Scotland) taking on northern Northumberland and ITV Border (Cumbria) taking on westernmost Northumberland would also help safeguard the future of the entire ITV Border franchise: Increasing the population of its transmission area will help eliminate the threat of this vital ITV Region being mothballed- this would not only be bad news for Northumberland but also Cumbria and Southern Scotland, where ITV Border provides excellent local news-programming. Financially there would be virtually no cost to such a move, since the only cost involve will be the one-time tweaking of some relay transmission masts in northern and western Northumberland.

If you live in rural Northumberland and bemoan the lack of local news- coverage and the absence of overlap coverage into the Scottish Borders (which is an area you may visit on a fine day in the summer), why not write to the Programmers at ITV Border requesting to be transferred to the ITV Border (Scotland) or ITV Border (Cumbria) transmission area depending on just where you live in Northumberland? Email ITV Border at: btvnews@itv.com

No News about North, West and Mid Northumberland during the last week on BBC Look North or ITV Tyne Tees.

Visit Kelso | Bordering on Brilliant | Roxburghshire, Scottish Borders,  Scotland
View of the small town of Kelso in the Scottish Borders, taken from the air. This is somewhere that is very unlikely ever to feature on BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria) or ITV Tyne Tees unless the good people of Northumberland complain about the lack of coverage of places that are still local to them which are beyond the Regional News services’ transmission boundaries.

The good folk of Berwick-upon Tweed must be wondering whether they (or, should that be ITV) made the right move back in 2006 when they were transferred from the ITV Border (Scotland) transmission area to ITV Tyne Tees because the furthest north the North East Regional news has come (Both on BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria) and ITV Tyne Tees has been a nine-year old girl from Blyth (still 60 miles south of Berwick) doing litter- picking! At least Blyth is in Northumberland, but hardly local to the good folk of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Cornhill-on-Tweed or Wooler. In any case, Blyth is in the urban south-east of the county, a northwards extension of Tyneside, where residents have concerns and worries that are a million miles from those of farmers and villages who live up along the Scottish Border.

It is certainly high time that the BBC and ITV Regional news- programmers in the North East rectified this problem because a Regional News service is not providing effective localised coverage for all its viewers if 200,000 folk (the population of rural west and northern Northumberland) and half of the geographical area of North East England gets no coverage for days on end. For days, now, the nearest “local news” for viewers in places like Byrness, Seahouses, Norham and Falstone has been an hour’s drive away or further.

It is also unacceptable that there is not an overlap zone for coverage into the Scottish Borders, in view of the strong links between Northumberland and southern Scotland. Both Regional broadcasters for the North East of England provide overlap coverage southwards across North Yorkshire for the benefit of their northern North Yorkshire and Teesside viewers, there should also be overlap northwards for the benefit of North Northumbrian viewers who travel into the Scottish Borders for days out, to visit relatives and (occasionally) to go shopping. There have been a couple of fatal road accidents and the A68 collapsing in a land-slip in the Scottish Borders during the summer- not one mention from BBC Look North or ITV Tyne Tees.

Virtually nothing specific on Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

Dear Readers

BBC Look North (covering the North East and northern Cumbria) featured a news- item about health officials in the Scottish Borders expressing concern about rising Coronavirus cases in neighbouring Northumberland: It is perhaps the only significant reference to rural Northumberland this week. The Regional News virtually never gets north of Tyneside and (when it does) its often just a general reference to Northumberland which, as a county, covers most of the geographical area of North East England. The reference to the Scottish Borders is perhaps the first time there has been a significant nod towards recognition of the fact that there are strong cultural and community links across the Border from Northumberland to the Scottish Borders since the summer (when there was a news- report on maintenance of the Union Chain Bridge over the River Tweed- where this marks the boundary between England and Scotland).

Over 200,000 people live in rural North and West Northumberland, many at a sufficient distance from Tyneside and Wearside such that significant happenings just over the border into Scotland have more of a bearing on their lives than what happens in Newcastle-upon-Tyne or Sunderland. A good Regional News service does not stop at the Regional (or national) Border nor at the transmission boundary beyond where one cannot see the Regional Programme in question. Overlap zones, for Regional and local news-coverage are important to ensure that viewers at the margins of the large transmission area in which BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) is received still get good all-round local news- coverage.

Most evenings, rural Northumberland is lucky to get one news- item of coverage (out of – usually- about ten news-items): The only happening reported on BBC Look North referring specifically to part of rural Northumberland this week was that of a fatal road traffic accident when a motorcyclist was killed, near the picturesque town of Bellingham, in the North Tyne valley. For locations that are forty, fifty and even over sixty miles north and north-west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne such a proportion of coverage of Northumberland (without overlap into the Scottish Borders) really does not make for a good local news- service for that northerly part of the English North East.

Regional News Programmers at BBC Look North and ITV Tyne Tees (which is now broadcast to all of Northumberland) would, of course, argue that since rural Northumberland has just over 200,000 people- compared to over three million who live in the vast transmission area stretching from near York in the south right up to Berwick-upon-Tweed: In the case of BBC Look North they would point out that they cover much of Cumbria (also covering a large area) too. However, that is no excuse- a minute could be shaved off the Sports coverage (football fans have other channels they can watch) to make room for news about rural Northumberland.

In the case of BBC Look North the transmission area is indeed huge: It is 150 miles from York up to Berwick-upon-Tweed and over 130 miles from St Bees Head (in West Cumbria) to Redcar, on the coast east of Middlesbrough. The programme is thus broadcast to all of North East England, most of North Yorkshire and most of Cumbria and the cities- Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sunderland, Durham, Middlesbrough, York and Carlisle take the lion’s share of coverage. It means that vast areas of rural Northern England from northern Northumberland to the North Lakes, the North Pennines and the northern Yorkshire Dales are covered acutely thinly. This is why central and southern North Yorkshire- including towns like Malton, Scarborough, and Harrogate- really should be transferred to the BBC Yorkshire Region (which might provide those areas with more relevant coverage) and (certainly) West Cumbria and the area immediately south of Penrith should be transferred to a new BBC North West Region that just covers Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man (this would be much better for West Cumbria and in keeping with Regional identity): This would then free up air-time (and resources) for BBC Look North to cover Northumberland (complete with overlap into the Scottish Borders) much better.

However, the BBC are unlikely to make provision for covering Northumberland better unless local people write in, and make clear that they feel their local areas are being overlooked. In the first instance you can contact BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) at: look.north.comment@bbc.co.uk . To contact ITV Tyne Tees email: ttvnews@itv.com.

15th September 2020: A New Site to focus on Regional Television coverage for the northern North East of England

Dear Readers

I already have a website that draws attention to the deficiencies in Regional Television for viewers of BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports who live in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire who do not get coverage of the northern half of North West England (i.e. Cumbria). This can be found at https://northwestisnorthwest.org/: Viewers in northern Lancashire and much of South Cumbria live just a bit too far south to receive an excellent signal from ITV Border (which covers Cumbria extremely well) and thus they have a choice between BBC North West Tonight or ITV Granada Reports, both of which will often not even mention Cumbria for a week, and they will often fail to cover anything north of Preston in their respective evening bulletins. Moreover, these programmes never cover even serious matters in northern Cumbria for the benefit of their viewers in the south of Cumbria: Thus not all of North West England is covered in Regional News programmes that say they cover North West England and the Isle of Man. I have therefore set up a Website which I am making the focal point for a Campaign to get the BBC and ITV in the North West to provide better local (and all- round) coverage for (potentially one million) viewers who live in a more northerly part of North West England who nevertheless suffer a poor North West Regional news-service.

However, this new Website is dedicated to viewers who live across the North Pennines and who also live in a rural county that extends well to the north of the urban areas of North East England- namely Northumberland. Since northernmost Northumberland was transferred from ITV Border to the ITV Tyne-Tees Region all of Northumberland now has a choice between ITV Tyne Tees or BBC Look North (the North East/ Cumbria version). Both these North East based Regional News services cover Northumberland poorly- one item out of ten news- items will be about rural North, West and Central Northumberland on a good night and there will be nothing north of Tyneside on a poor night. For the good folk of Berwick-upon-Tweed it means that “The News Where You Are”, as the BBC main news-presenter likes to say is sixty or more miles away (and often 100 or more miles away if its something about Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire- or West Cumbria). This is not acceptable for a Regional News- service that purports to serve everyone in North East England.

Rural northern Northumbrians also have strong links with communities across the Border into Scotland- particularly the Scottish Borders: The fact that Berwick Rangers is part of the Scottish Lowland Football League (and were part of the Scottish Professional Football League until last year) is one example of the cross- border ties. Edinburgh is less than an hour away from Berwick-upon-Tweed by train. However, this is not at all recognised by ITV Tyne Tees (the link-up with ITV Border has now been severed, which is actually good for folk living in northern Cumbria and southern Scotland who now get much more localised coverage) and not at all by BBC North East/ Cumbria programmers: Neither of the North-East based Regional News services provide any overlap coverage northwards into the Scottish Borders- which they should so that folk living at the northern margins of the transmission area receive more all-round coverage. This is therefore something that will be covered in posts on this Website and which will feature in the campaign to get Regional Television improved for viewers in Northumberland, so that they not only get more localised news- coverage of their communities but also a better perception of all-round local coverage too.

BBC Look North (North East and Cumbria) must indeed (as the name of the Regional News- programme suggests) Look North- to the often- neglected large rural hinterlands of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders: Hence the name of the Website (https://looknorthmustlooknorth.org/).