Borders need Scottish TV

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I write with reference to an article in this week’s Southern Reporter newspaper regarding television a proposal to include southern Scotland under STV’s remit.

I live in Duns, in south-east Scotland. Viewers here are served by ITV1 Tyne Tees & Border, formed in early 2009 by an amalgamation of the former Border Television and Tyne Tees Television regions. As part of this, the Border TV studios in Carlisle were closed and all news operations transferred to the Tyne Tees TV studios in Gateshead.

The region now covers an area stretching form the Lake District and Scarborough in the south to Stranraer and Grantshouse in the north and the former Border TV part is covered by a 15-minute opt-out in the 6pm regional news programme.

For many years until the late 1990s, a common complaint was that Border Television tended to ignore the needs of its Scottish viewers in favour of its English ones. This was remedied in 1999 with the introduction of a Border Scotland opt-out, which allowed viewers in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway to see programmes being transmitted in the rest of Scotland by STV, and gave improved news coverage of these areas.

However, as part of the rationalisation in 2009, this opt-out was abandoned. As a result, news coverage of the eastern Scottish Borders in particular is now very poor.

Parts of the former Border TV region have been transferred to neighbouring franchises in recent years; Berwick to Tyne Tees in 2006, and the Isle of Man to Granada in 2009.

It is ridiculous that viewers in southern Scotland are expected to accept a “local” television service based in Gateshead – 70 miles south of the border – while the abandonment of the Border Scotland opt-out means that any Scottish interest programmes are now broadcast region-wide rather than in just southern Scotland as previously, and often in late-night slots so as not to disrupt the network schedule.

One Borders Lib-Dem MSP has called for the status quo to remain in Southern Scotland with regard to television and news coverage, claiming that the area would be worse of if it was served by STV.

This is rubbish. Earlier this year, STV introduced separate news programmes for Glasgow and Edinburgh, and if it was to extend its coverage to include Southern Scotland, I am sure that it would have a separate news programme for for viewers served by the Caldbeck (Scotland) and Selkirk transmitter groups. As far as I am aware, this was the set-up used for the erstwhile Border Scotland opt-out.

The MSP may be happy to continue to receive his local news from Gateshead, but in my opinion his attitude is one of “it’s aye bin”. I sincerely doubt his constituents share the same view.

The time has come for southern Scotland to become part of STV, and I for one would welcome such a move if it meant improved news coverage and access to programmes seen in the rest of Scotland. Retaining the status quo is not an option and I fear that if this opportunity is not taken now to rectify this issue, it will be lost forever.

Steven Oliver