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.