SOUTH of Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine was meeting with television bosses yesterday to discuss ITV’s “inadequate” coverage of the Borders.
It follows the members’ debate the MSP led on the issue at Holyrood last week when she accused ITV of being “in denial” about the problem.
And it comes before the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce (SBCC) hosts a conference in the summer tackling what it calls the “unsatisfactory television offering”.
SBCC director and journalist Andrew Collier said: “It is unsatisfactory that our local news comes from Gateshead and is more likely to cover events in Kendal or Keswick than Kelso. This area is not ‘our region’, as the Borders news programme presenters often call it.”
While the rest of Scotland gets its ITV news from STV, the south of the country’s bulletins come from Gateshead, along with north-west and north-east of England news.
Speaking earlier in the week, Ms McAlpine, who has worked for national newspapers, including TheSouthern’s sister title The Scotsman, said: “I’m looking forward to meeting with ITV on Wednesday to discuss what can be done to improve the current inadequate and unsatisfactory television offering.
“It is obvious that Scottish news and current affairs coverage in the south of Scotland is not good enough. The strength of feeling on the issue, from across the political spectrum, was made particularly clear throughout last week’s debate and in the days following.
“There has been a great response from local organisations who are passionate about the issue. At a time of such political importance in the lead-up to the referendum on Scottish independence, it is vital that viewers in this area receive the same coverage from both sides of the debate as the rest of the country.
“I will not let ITV ignore the strength of feeling on this issue. Viewers in the south of Scotland deserve better.”
Her views are echoed by SBCC which will invite broadcasters, politicians and local representatives to suggest changes to what’s on offer at its summer debate. And SBCC convener James Aitken said the organisation would pass on the ideas to television regulator Ofcom.
Mr Aitken, stressing that the criticism was not about the work of ITV staff covering the Borders, continued: “There is a feeling in some quarters that, at a hugely exciting time in Scotland’s history, this part of the country is not being properly served by the ITV network in terms of local news. Borderers are as Scottish as anyone else, and have a right to the highest quality provision of news, information and debate on Scottish affairs.”
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont called for a south of Scotland service.
He said: “Some have used the disquiet in the lack of regionally-tailored television service in the Borders as an argument in favour of a Scotland-wide service, as proposed by STV.
“However, research by Ofcom found that though viewers in the Borders were less satisfied with Scottish news coverage from ITV, they placed considerably more importance than other Scots on the need for a focus on their local area.
“Broadcasting in the Borders would be better served by a more locally-dedicated, south-of-Scotland service, supplemented with coverage of national Scottish issues, rather than a Scotland-wide service.”
“I would very much welcome any proposal from ITV to enhance the news and current affairs service for southern Scotland, with a return to the traditional, smaller Border region without Tyne Tees.”
South of Scotland Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume says moving to STV is not the solution.
He said: “The SNP might well be supportive of STV assuming responsibilities for the output currently provided by ITV Border. However, I would argue that people across the Borders would be concerned that Glasgow is equally as remote from them as Newcastle is.
“The fact is that Borderers look to Channel 3’s regional news as the place for the more localised content, but there is a fear that local content would simply be replaced by a Central Belt bias.
“Ofcom’s own research made clear that the preferred option remains going back to the pre-2009 service where seeing a news crew on Borders streets was common place.
“It’s important that Borderers do not see a dilution of local content and I will continue to make that point throughout discussions with Ofcom and the Department of Culture and Sport.”
A spokesperson for ITV said: “We are still in discussions with Ofcom about the best way to provide an improved service for the Border region that provides viewers with news about their area as well as more programming about Scotland – particularly the south of Scotland.
“However, it is worth noting that the current Border regional news service, Lookaround, is more popular than the comparable services in Scotland, and enjoys the highest viewing figures of any ITV regional programme.”