Scottish Borders Chamber to host debate over better TV coverage

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  MOVES to provide TV viewers across the Borders with improved Scottish news and current affairs coverage are to be made with a major debate in the region on the subject.

The Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce (SBCC) is to host a conference this summer at which broadcasters, politicians and local representatives will be encouraged to suggest changes to the current “unsatisfactory” television offering.

Along with the rest of the South of Scotland, the Borders receives its ITV programming from Border TV, which is based in Gateshead in the North East of England.  Its nightly ‘local’ news programme, Lookaround, regularly features stories from as far away as the Lake District and the Cumbrian coast.

Anger over this was expressed at Holyrood last week when South of Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine led a members’ debate on the subject.

Ms McAlpine went on to tell MSPs during the debate that ITV was “in denial” about the problem in the south of Scotland.  She is to meet bosses at the channel this week (Wed Feb 6th) to discuss the issue further.

SBCC convener James Aitken said after the Holyrood debate: “It is good to see the Scottish Parliament taking the time to examine our ITV news provision.  We do though need to start talking about it ourselves and having a serious discussion about what should be done.

“That’s why we have decided to host our own event giving broadcasters and politicians the opportunity to come and make their own suggestions for improvement.  We will then pass the results of our discussions on to the television regulator, Ofcom, and of course to the people of the Borders and the wider South of Scotland.”

He added:  “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.

“I want to make it plain that we have absolutely no complaint about the hard working and dedicated staff of Borders TV who currently serve our area.  They are talented professionals who would do a great job no matter which ITV company employed them.”

Another SBCC Director, Andrew Collier, who is a professional journalist, 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.”

It may be, he added, that the Borders would get better and more relevant news coverage if it came from STV.  “We have a rich history and culture in the Borders and the South of Scotland generally.  There are some great things happening here.  The rest of the country deserves to hear about them.”

He continued: “We’re fully aware that – despite Joan’s excellent and impassioned debate – there is little the Scottish Parliament can do to change things, as broadcasting is reserved to Westminster.  But people living here should be asked what they want, and STV should certainly be given the chance to tell us what it can offer us.”

Joan McAlpine said: “I’m extremely pleased to hear that the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce will host a conference this summer where broadcasters, politicians and local representatives will be encouraged to suggest changes to the current television provision.”

She continued:  “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.”