Below, a piece I ran in a well-known satirical magazine in May 2018. It was subsequently picked up by the Sunday Times, who also gave the show a bit of a scalding under a piece headed: ‘RTE turfed into trouble over bog show sponsorship’. The paper put a query in to the BAI as to the legality of this unflagged advertorial being run on the national broadcaster. The BAI responded by saying it was: “aware of reports in respect of this programme and will be in touch with RTE to discuss this matter in due course”. Sadly, the show has since disappeared from the RTE Player, which is a shame, as its craven, brown-nosed woefulness really had to be seen to be believed. I’ve done my best in the piece below to give you at least a flavour of this execrable confection.
“THIS IS THE STORY of Ireland’s best kept secret”. So RTÉ’s Derek Mooney began ‘Turf Life – a day on the bog’. This statement was true in more ways than the presenter might have imagined. The TV programme, broadcast on May 4th, was sponsored by Bord na Móna, Ireland’s chief bog destroying enterprise.
Due to what RTÉ told me was “an oversight which has since been corrected”, there was no mention whatever of Bord na Móna’s involvement, either in the opening or closing credits. RTÉ’s say they have“adjusted our internal processes to ensure this does not happen again”. However, despite this, the programme remained on the RTÉ Player sans any kind of sponsorship line whatever for at least two weeks after it aired.
Rest assured, sponsorship “had no influence over the content or scheduling of the programme”, we are informed. The actual editorial control therefore rests fully with RTÉ. This is puzzling, as it had the feel of a breezy infomercial promoting as an ecological nirvana the tiny corner of Bord na Móna’s huge holding that it is not currently open-cast mining for peat.
Bogs are, Mooney intoned, “havens of biodiversity, of wildflowers, of hidden beauty”. You would think therefore the presenter, who has an impressive track record in nature and wildlife broadcasting, might have at least mentioned in passing the tens of thousands of hectares this semi-state continues to lay waste to on an industrial scale.
“This is the story of Irish bogs – and the race to save them for posterity”, added Mooney, without a hint of irony. And from there, co-presenter Sinéad Kennedy “meets the ecologist in a race to restore the bogland sanctuaries for future generations”. Probably due to another oversight, the ecologist is never introduced as a Bord na Móna employee, nor did she get the opportunity to explain how her employer is by far the biggest threat to these sanctuaries she is racing to restore.
Bord na Móna is entitled to engage in delusional spin about its Kafkaesque role in saving the boglands as it destroys them, but they can hardly have believed their luck in co-opting RTÉ to broadcast (unluckily, without even a mention of the sponsor’s involvement) a programme with all the editorial rigour of an in-house PR video.
In just one example of the surreal tone of this programme, Mooney visits the Edenderry power plant, which he describes as “the largest renewable power plant on the island”. In fact, the main fuel burned in this plant is the very peat he eulogises as being a haven of biodiversity, sanctuary of wildflowers, etc. The ‘renewable’ biomass it co-burns has included, incredibly, palm kernels from Indonesia.
Somewhere on this hulking nine-storey facility a pair of peregrine falcons has found an unlikely nesting spot from which to roam out over the ruined landscape of wrecked and drained bogs. “Bord na Móna are providing a home for these falcons at this power plant”, Mooney explains. Indeed.
In another staged scene, a mechanical excavator is filmed blocking drains and helping to rewet the bog. This is more clever PR, as it creates the erroneous impression that Bord Na Móna has largely exited the bog mining business and is now focused on repairing the damage it has done.
Joe Lane of Bord Na Móna concludes by calling the bogs “a national treasure and we have to maintain the level of stewardship that warrants”. Mooney counters that (hysterical?) “environmentalists will be screaming at the television” wondering why they won’t simply stop destroying the bogs right now.
Lane explains patiently: “you just can’t walk away from peatlands actively in production; those have to be rehabilitated”. By digging up and burning millions more tons of bogs for profit and subsidies, while destroying the climate, he forgot to add. Another unfortunate oversight, no doubt.