Complaint to the BBC – sent 29th April 2019
For the full post please see the link above.
Complaint. Health: Truth or Scare, Series 3 Episode 2 – Broadcast at 9:15am, 23 Apr 2019
Dear Sir or Madam,
I would like to complain about the section in this programme that discussed the issue of ‘whether radiation from mobile phones really is causing brain cancer’ .
The BBC is a public service broadcaster, and its Editorial Guidelines state that:
‘The Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter requires us to do all we can to ensure controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality in our news and other output dealing with matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy’ .
Unfortunately though, this programme completely failed to cover this issue with ‘due impartiality’, as I summarise below.
1) The programme approached the issue in a biased, one-sided manner, and presented the debate as having been settled, describing any view to the contrary as a ‘myth’.
2) It called upon the testimony of just two supposed experts concerning the biological effects of electromagnetic radiation; however, the expertise of these individuals in the field of non-ionising radiation is not obvious, and their no-effects bias was evident.
3) The programme gave misleading, scientifically incorrect, and irresponsible information, and omitted providing crucial advice, not just to the lady who featured in this segment, but also to the wider public, with potentially serious repercussions.
Taking each of my complaints in turn:
1. Biased coverage
The BBC only presented one side of the issue of whether or not mobile phone (and other) wireless technologies are harmful, and can cause cancer. It relied upon two ‘experts’ who stated that the radiation is not harmful, but it didn’t feature any experts to counter this opinion.
The two experts, the reporter, and one of the presenters, all made statements that are not supported by the majority of the independent, non-industry, science. Any member of the public who viewed this programme, and who was not aware of the science, would naturally believe that mobile phones (and wireless technologies in general) had been given a clean bill of health by the BBC and its ‘experts’, and that their use – even by very young children – was therefore without risk.
2. Biased ‘experts’
The BBC featured two ‘experts’ on the biological effects of exposure to the radiation that is emitted by mobile phones and other wireless technologies – Professor Malcolm Sperrin and Yolanda Ohene.
Professor Dariusz Leszczynski, who was a member of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group which in 2011 classified RF radiation as a possible carcinogen, said this following the programme:
‘BBC should do better selection of experts to make their science program believable. Continuous repeating, as BBC journalists and experts did, of ICNIRP and telecom’s mantra that “low power” radiation emitted by wireless devices has no health effects misrepresents what scientific research has found.
Just two examples of BBC experts with no expertise in wireless radiation but who provided a very definite opinions of no-health-effects-whatsoever:
BBC expert, Dr Ohene, has 2 peer-reviewed publications on MRI, as listed on PubMed database. She has also 5 conference abstracts listed on Google Scholar website. And that is all. Sort of little for the thorough in-depth expertise on wireless radiation.
BBC expert, Prof. Sperrin: “I’ve been associated with the military for many years” (https://lnkd.in/gW6iAeb). Just to recall, cell phones derived in 80’s from the military technology. Thus, the military background might be considered a bias. Prof Sperrin’s list of publications on Google Scholar lists 19 articles, mostly on radon. No practical research expertise with wireless radiation.’ .
An online search shows that Professor Sperrin has, over many years, claimed that the radiation from wireless technologies is safe, despite his apparent lack of expertise on non-ionising radiation. For example, he is quoted in a BBC article published in 2007 as saying that:
‘…evidence points to wi-fi transmissions being well below any likely threshold for human effect’. .
No non-ionising radiation expert was invited to counter the opinions expressed on the programme with a fact-based evaluation of the science, and an analysis of the potential for wireless technologies and infrastructure to harm health at exposures that are below the current allowable levels.
3. Misleading, incorrect, contradictory, and irresponsible statements, plus omissions
The following statements were made by the presenters, reporter, and chosen experts over the course of the programme. My comments are in parenthesis.
Yolanda Ohene (expert):
(Stickers were given to Ashley to put on her wireless devices, denoting low, medium or high risk when it comes to radiation emissions)
‘It [RF radiation] doesn’t do any damage to the cells’ (false – see the scientific literature)
‘It [mobile phone] does give off some radiation, but it’s a radiofrequency wave, so we can change this [sticker] from high to, perhaps, a medium’ (non-sequitur, and contradicts other statements, such as the cells not being damaged by RF radiation)
‘The light from the sun would be much more damaging than these [wireless] devices’ (where is the peer-reviewed evidence to support this assertion?)
‘It [sunbathing without sunscreen in Barbados] would be so much worse than even using 10 mobile phones at the same time’ (where is the peer-reviewed evidence to support this assertion?)
‘The cells in your body are not going to be harmed by this [radiation]’ (false – see the scientific literature)
Kevin Duala (presenter)
‘(it’s) great to know I don’t have to worry about the radiation from my mobile phone…I mean that is one myth Angela that doesn’t seem to be going away’ (IARC’s classification is not a myth)
Steve Brown (reporter)
‘So there is no evidence that the radiofrequencies emitted from our mobile phones cause illness in human beings’ (false – see the scientific literature)
‘So because the radiation emitted from mobile phones and wifi routers is the very weak non-ionising kind, there is no evidence to suggest we’re in danger of developing any health problems from it’ (false – see the scientific literature; also, this assumes that it is the intensity of the radiation alone that causes biological damage, and not the polarity, frequency, pulsation, duration, modulation etc.)
Professor Malcolm Sperrin (expert)
‘There’s no evidence that suggests you should worry’ (false – see the scientific literature; there is actually a great deal of evidence to worry about)
The statements, made by Professor Malcolm Sperrin, Yolanda Ohene, Steve Brown and Kevin Duala were either misleading, contradictory, or false, as even a superficial examination of the non-industry, peer-reviewed, scientific literature shows.
Were members of the public to believe what they have been told by the presenters and experts on this programme, they would potentially be putting themselves and their families at great risk.
Also, there was no mention in the programme of any of the following:
a) The formal classification in 2011 of RF radiation as a Group 2B Possible Carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer / World Health Organisation, on the basis of an increased risk of glioma .
Also, an IARC expert group has recently recommended that high priority be given to a re-evaluation of RF radiation, in light of recent scientific findings .
b) The results of two recent scientific studies, carried out by the National Toxicology Program in the US, and the Ramazzini Institute in Italy, which found ‘clear’ and ‘statistically significant’ evidence respectively of a link between mobile phone / mobile mast radiation and cancer  .
c) A recent study, and related analysis, showing a doubling in the occurence of the most deadly form of brain cancer in England, and the possible link between this and the use of mobile phones .
d) The substantial body of non-industry scientific literature showing evidence of harm from RF radiation (see the EMF Portal, the BioInitiative Report, or the ORSAA database)   .
e) The RF radiation warning that is buried deep in the phone itself, or in small print in the manual, advising that the device should not be held against the body; Ashley was filmed taking her phone out of her back pocket, but no attention was drawn of this. By storing the phone there, she was potentially exposed to radiation from the phone which exceeded the international limits.
f) The fact that the insurance industry will not cover any health effects of exposure to the RF radiation from wireless technologies .
g) Two significant papers by Om Gandhi, Life Fellow at the IEEE: ‘Microwave Emissions From Cell Phones Exceed Safety Limits in Europe and the US When Touching the Body’ , and ‘Exposure Limits: The underestimation of absorbed cell phone radiation, especially in children’ .
h) The warnings of the 247 experts who have signed the International EMF [Electro Magnetic Field] Scientist Appeal, which has been sent to the UN, all UN member states, and the World Health Organisation (emphasis mine):
‘Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plant and animal life…It is our opinion that, because the ICNIRP guidelines do not cover long-term exposure and low-intensity effects, they are insufficient to protect public health’ .
i) The fact that the UK follows the radiation exposure guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which have been criticised as inadequate by many experts, including Dr Lennart Hardell, the oncologist whose studies were instrumental in IARC’s 2011 classification of RF radiation as a possible carcinogen:
‘The exposure guideline used by many agencies was established in 1998 by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and was based only on established short-term thermal (heating) effects from RF radiation neglecting non-thermal biological effects…ICNIRP is a private organisation (NGO) based in Germany. New expert members can only be elected by members of ICNIRP. Many of ICNIRP members have ties to the industry that is dependent on the ICNIRP guidelines. The guidelines are of huge economic and strategic importance to the military, telecom/IT and power industry’ .
j) The paper ‘Inaccurate official assessment of radiofrequency safety by the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation’, written by neuroscientist Dr Sarah Starkey:
‘The Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR) 2012 report forms the basis of official advice on the safety of radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields in the United Kingdom…PHE [Public Health England] and AGNIR had a responsibility to provide accurate information about the safety of RF fields. Unfortunately, the report suffered from an incorrect and misleading executive summary and overall conclusions, inaccurate statements, omissions and conflict of interest. Public health and the well-being of other species in the natural world cannot be protected when evidence of harm, no matter how inconvenient, is covered up’
Her critique shows that three senior members of PHE are also members of ICNIRP, and she notes that:
‘Independence from ICNIRP is necessary to remove the conflict of interest when effects below ICNIRP exposure guidelines are being assessed’ .
(Subsequent to the publication of her paper, coincidence or not, AGNIR was quietly disbanded…)
k} The subsequent calls by a number of the experts who were part of the 2011 IARC RF radiation working group for the cancer classification of this agent to be raised, to either Group 2A Probable Carcinogen, or Group 1 Human Carcinogen. These include Dr Lennart Hardell , Dr Anthony Miller , and Professor Dariusz Leszczynski .
l) The health risks associated with the blue light that is emitted by mobile phones and other wireless devices, which were highlighted by Dame Sally Davies, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, in her 2017 report: ‘Health Impacts of All Pollution – what do we know?’ .
m) The advice issued in 2000, and reiterated in 2004, by the Government’s Scientific Adviser, Sir William Stewart (‘The Stewart Report’):
‘If there are currently unrecognised adverse health effects from the use of mobile phones, children may be especially vulnerable because of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy on the tissues of the head…and a longer lifetime of exposure. In line with our precautionary approach, we believe that the widespread use of mobile phones by children for non-essential calls should be discouraged. We also recommend that the mobile phone industry should refrain from promoting the use of mobile phones by children’. .
(Should the BBC therefore also refrain from promoting and normalising their use by children…?)n) The advice given in the Health Protection Agency’s response to the 2012 Advisory Group on Non Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) report, which said:
‘Excessive use of mobile phones by children should be discouraged, while adults should make their own choices as to whether they wish to reduce their exposures, but be enabled to do this from an informed position’ .
This advice is repeated by Public Health England .
o) The advice given by the NHS:
‘Children should only use mobile phones for essential purposes and keep all calls short’ [26 ], and ‘The UK Chief Medical Officers advise that children and young people under 16 should be encouraged to use mobile phones for essential purposes only, and to keep calls short’ .
(Footage was shown in the programme of Ashley’s young children using mobile phones and other wireless devices, but no warning was given by the BBC that this practice is officially discouraged)
p) The recent request of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to the Government:
”The report of the Independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation [AGNIR] on the ‘Health effects from Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields’ is now nearly seven years old. In its Response to our Report, we ask the Government to outline what assessment it has made of the quantity and quality of the research on this topic, published since 2012, and to explain whether another evidence review is now warranted’ .
(To its credit, the Committee did not describe the concern that the radiation from wireless devices such as mobile phones might be harming children as a ‘myth’…)
When an issue is of such fundamental importance to human health as the biological effects of radiation from ubiquitous wireless devices and infrastructure, it is surely the duty of the BBC to present both sides of the scientific debate fairly, and without bias. It should not cherry-pick the scientific evidence and the experts that it uses, nor offer advice to the viewing public that is false, misleading, or potentially harmful. It should also not normalise the casual use of radiation-emitting technologies by young children, as this would be contrary to official advice.
The BBC failed to display due impartiality in this programme, but I hope that my complaint is examined in a more objective manner, and that it is ultimately upheld.
Please can I suggest that in order to remedy the damage that I would argue has been done, it would be appropriate for the BBC to produce and air another tv programme in which this crucial issue is addressed in a much more balanced manner, and with the participation of properly qualified experts from both sides of the debate.
There is an abundance of scientific evidence showing that the radiation from wireless devices and technologies is harmful, and that the current safety guidelines are not protective, as they are based on a false assumption (i.e. that the radiofrequency/microwave radiation from wireless devices is safe, so long as it doesn’t heat you too much…).
There are also official and other organisations which argue that there is no ‘convincing’, ‘conclusive’, or ‘consistent’ evidence of harm, and who do not practice a ‘precautionary approach’, other than in name alone. In order to have a fair debate, so that the public interest is properly served, both sides must be allowed to have their say, the facts must be presented, and BBC presenters and reporters should really keep their opinions to themselves.
1. Truth or Scare, Series 3 Episode 2, BBC, Broadcast at 9:15am, 23 Apr 2019 https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0004j39/health-truth-or-scare-series-3-episode-2
2. BBC Editorial Guidelines https://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidelines/impartiality
3. Professor Dariusz Leszczynski https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=2586375194771204&id=1652314904843909
4. Wi-fi health fears are ‘unproven’ – BBC, 21st May 2007 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6676129.stm
5. IARC Monograph 102 http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol102/index.php
6. Lancet Oncology, 17th April 2019 https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S1470-2045%2819%2930246-3
7. National Toxicology Program https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2018/4/feature/feature-2-cell-phone/index.htm
8. Ramazzini Institute https://ehtrust.org/worlds-largest-animal-study-on-cell-tower-radiation-confirms-cancer-link/
9. Glioblastomas Have Doubled in Number in England Since Mobile Phones Were Introduced in 1995 – Franz Adlkofer https://stiftung-pandora.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Pandora_Adlkofer_Slesin-Glioblastoma_2019-03-19.pdf
10. EMF Portal https://www.emf-portal.org/en
11. BioInitiative Report https://bioinitiative.org/
12. ORSAA Database https://www.orsaa.org/orsaa-database.html
13. Electromagnetic Field Insurance Policy Exclusion Are The Standard – Environmental Health Trust https://ehtrust.org/key-issues/electromagnetic-field-insurance-policy-exclusions/
14. Microwave Emissions From Cell Phones Exceed Safety Limits in Europe and the US When Touching the Body, OM P. GANDHI https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=868862
15. Exposure Limits: The underestimation of absorbed cell phone radiation, especially in children – Om Gandhi et al http://electromagnetichealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/EBM_Final_v4_10-13-11-1.pdf
16. International EMF Scientist Appeal https://emfscientist.org/
17. World Health Organization, radiofrequency radiation and health – a hard nut to crack (Review) – Lennart Hardell https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504984/
18. Inaccurate official assessment of radiofrequency safety by the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation – Sarah J. Starkey https://www.degruyter.com/downloadpdf/j/reveh.2016.31.issue-4/reveh-2016-0060/reveh-2016-0060.pdf
19. Evaluation of Mobile Phone and Cordless Phone Use and Glioma Risk Using the Bradford Hill Viewpoints from 1965 on Association or Causation – Lennart Hardell and Michael Carlberg https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2017/9218486/
20. Cancer epidemiology update, following the 2011 IARC evaluation of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (Monograph 102) – Anthony Miller et al https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118303475
21. Something potentially BIG is brewing down-under for the 5G – A class action lawsuit, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, 30th July 2018 https://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/something-potentially-big-is-brewing-down-under-for-the-5g-a-class-action-lawsuit/
22. Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2017 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/690846/CMO_Annual_Report_2017_Health_Impacts_of_All_Pollution_what_do_we_know.pdf
23. Mobile Phones and Health, IEGMP, Chairman Sir William Stewart http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.602.5821&rep=rep1&type=pdf
24. HPA response to the 2012 AGNIR report on the health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, 1st April 2012 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/radiofrequency-electromagnetic-fields-health-effects/health-protection-agency-response-to-the-2012-agnir-report-on-the-health-effects-from-radiofrequency-electromagnetic-fields
25. Radio waves: reducing exposure from mobile phones – Public Health England https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/radio-waves-reducing-exposure/radio-waves-reducing-exposure-from-mobile-phones
26. Overview: Mobile phone safety – NHS https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Mobile-phone-safety/
27. Mobile Phones and Base Stations, NHS, 2011 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/215711/dh_124899.pdf
28. Impact of screen-use on young people’s health – House of Commons Science and Technology Committee https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmsctech/822/822.pdf
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