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Paul Williams up for an IFTA!?!?


Paul Williams documentary ‘The Battle for the Gasfield’ has been nominated for a Irish Film and Television Award (IFTA) in the Current Affairs category. It’s controversial, biased, and poorly made – so why is it being nominated?

Williams certainly isn’t a friend to Shell to Sea, and this is long-established. His use of (or should that read ‘by’) unnamed Garda ’sources’ – showing up the inherent problems of the dependence of crime correspondents on Gardai (good stories on this problem in relation to Corrib here and here) for stories – to try to blacken the campaign through supposed association with republican paramilitaries began in 2006, and he upped the ante with ‘The Battle for the Gasfield’.

Needless to say this was more of the same, with some highlights including describing Maura Harrington as ‘the pin-up girl of every sect of the republican movement’, talking about non-existent violence and intimidation, without the inconvenience of having to back this up with anything like facts. Perhaps the best though was trying to portray Willie Corduff, and the protest at large, as being against progress, with the ‘evidence’ presented was that Willie’s father supposedly opposed rural electrification. What he actually opposed was its punitive costs, as was shown by a recent Would You Believe programme.

The Sunday Business Post, who would be quite favourable to Shell in general, (the clue’s in the ‘Business’ part), said the documentary was ‘more heat than light‘, ‘never seemed neutral’, and was full of Williams’ ‘loaded observations’. Even the Indo (controlled by the O’Reilly clan, who also control Providence Resources, a natural resource company) thought it was over the top.

Eoghan Harris defended the programme, but then he would, as part owner of Praxis Pictures (the makers of ‘The Battle for the Gasfield’) wouldn’t he?

There were also a number of complaints to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC) about breaches of obligations to ‘fairness, objectivity, and impartiality in current affairs’. Frank McDonald, the Environmental Editor of the Irish Times called it ‘one of the most tendentious pieces of television‘ he had seen in a long time. While none of the complaints were upheld, this is hardly the background against which one gets a national award.

It’s very important to see this documentary in context – it was aired just before the serious ramping up of Garda numbers in Erris is preparation for the arrival of the Solitaire, and given its tone, was certainly laying the groundwork for Gardai to ‘deal with‘ the protesters.

And then, a few weeks after the airing of the programme, came the coup de grace. Williams’ credibility was massively undermined by the revelation of having been a guest of Shell (the only journalist invited) at the famous Ireland v England rugby match in 2007 at Croke Park (scroll down for Phoenix article). He has been noticeably quiet on the subject of the Corrib Gas Controversy since…

So, given all of this, how is this documentary up for an award? I’m not sure, but there might be a clue in the fact that apparently the different channels get to nominate their favourites, which then get get narrowed down to a shortlist. Some would suggest that this leads to a lot of nods to TV3, especially when TV3 are so prickly about RTE looking down their noses at them.

Whatever about the speculation in this last paragraph, the bookies have put ‘The Battle for the Gasfield’ as third favourite, of four. Let’s hope they’re right, and this travesty of a programme doesn’t get any undeserved recognition…