I’ve just been sent this by the BBC publicity office, it is a response from Paul Kenyon, the presenter of the show, and very nice chap too.
And remember – by the miracle of the interweb – this is the show he is talking about.
Hi Ben. If you could post Paul’s piece below online today that would be great.
I have read the comments expressed about the Panorama WiFi programme and, though often entertaining, I do think much of it is unfair criticism of a programme with a very straight forward thesis. The head of the HPA, who is a well-respected and influential scientist calls for a review of WiFi technology in schools because he feels it is being rolled out too rapidly….isnt that worth reporting?
As many of your readers will know, in 2000 Sir William Stewart carried out a review of the studies carried out into the possible health effects of mobile phones and masts. His key recommendation was that we should take a “precautionary approach”. It is his view that the government has not taken a sufficiently “precautionary approach” in relation to WiFi. I think you will agree this too is worth reporting.
He also recommended against the beam of greatest intensity from a mobile phone mast falling on any part of a schools grounds. Now, you may disagree with his thoughts, but do bear in mind that this view was reached by Sir William’s expert group, and not by him alone. The expert group included Dr Mike Repacholi. If Sir William is concerned about pulsing radio frequency radiation from phone masts, it would follow that he might well have concerns about the similar pulsing radiation from WiFi. He says he does. We went to a school and measured it. We then compared it with a mobile phone mast, which he had expressed his concerns about. Since the outrage expressed on this website, I checked again to ensure this was comparing like with like (even though we did of course check on numerous occasions during the making of the programme). I checked this time with a scientist at University of Bristol, who said that for the purpose of this programme these two sources are comparable. So, put simply, Sir William Stewart is uncomfortable about the main beam of a mast falling on a school…the WiFi had a higher reading. He is concerned about that too. However, it must be pointed out that we interviewed Sir William before we carried out the tests at the school, and so his concern was not as a result of the tests.
On the subject of Alasdair Phillips, whatever you think about his views, they didn’t impinge in any way on the programme. All he did was take the readings, not express a view.
In terms of interviewees, Professor Henry Lai is well-respected by both sides in the argument. Dr Repacholi agreed with that when I put it to him. Just because he is in a minority of scientists who have found an effect at these low levels of radiation doesn’t mean he can be brushed to one side. Dr Olle Johansson specialises in the field of electrosensitives, and is from the Karolinska Institute and so absolutely worth having in the programme.
Panorama was not trying to suggest there is any new science around, we were merely reporting on the views of the government’s chief advisor in this field. It is the mainstream view, which your readers appear to unanimously support, that there is no evidence of any adverse health effects from this form of radiation. But when we put that quote, from the WHO website, to Sir William he said this:
PK: Is that an accurate reflection of the science do you think?
BS: I think theyâ€™re wrong
PK: How are they wrong?
BS: Because there is evidence and the Stewart report pointed out some of that evidence
The fact that the head of the HPA believes the WHO is incorrect in the message it’s putting out to the world seems to me to be a legitimate piece of journalism.
Yours Paul Kenyon
I ought to mention in passing that obviously I didn’t compare electromagnetic signals with lightbulbs, I quoted a funny skit from somebody called Tristan Mills on another blog. He was mocking the use of the word “radiation” in the program (30 times in 28 minutes) to describe electromagnetic signals. It’s quite a funny skit from him, you should read it.
Paul Kenyon Podcast
We also had a long chat on the phone, “stilted” while the tape was on, cheery when it wasn’t. Nice chap. Unfortunately it’s recorded off the phone and onto, er, audio cassette – not posh podcast recorder – because you stingy bastards don’t ever spend anything here or here, and god bless you for it, ideas were meant to be free. I’ll try and transfer it over if I can buy this weird audio cable and grab an hour or two, I think it should be just about audible.
You’ve, er, heard the quality of the previous recordings of course.
Anyway [holds pistol aloft]: “Discuss”. Except it’s a balmy bank holiday weekend, so maybe discuss in the park instead. I’m going to an Indian wedding. Hurrah!
Update from comments:
Program gets a right slap on BBC News 24, thanks in particular to the comments sent in to the BBC. Shame with all my license fee money they’re not together enough to sort out embedded video, but here’s the clunky link to their video of it. If anyone grabs it with wmrecorder and uploads to video.google.com then let me know and I’ll embed, it’s really very very good.
Update BBC24 Newswatch transcript:
Here is the text from the BBC News 24 “Newswatch” show. Thanks to Briantist for transcription:
RS: Welcome to Newswatch. This week: was Panoramaâ€™s report on Wifi sound science or scaremongering?
RS: On Monday Panorama reported on wireless computer technology suggesting it could be more dangerous that mobile phone masts. It was a particular concern the programme said because is in use in more than half of schools.
(Clip from programme in school)
PK: This is where they sit and they are already all logged on?
Alistair Phillips:. They are logged onto the network yes.
PK: Take the measurement if you can.
Alistair Phillips: Make sure this is set on the right scale and we will download a (dunno). OK. Thatâ€™s quite spectacular.
PK: Is it?
Alistair Phillips: Yes, thatâ€™s about three times what we were getting by that phone mast.
RS: Panorama featured a number of scientists who were concerned that Wifi could be harmful and also spoke to a number of people who claim they are electro sensitive â€“ physically affected by electromagnetic fields. But it was the science used in the report that concerned many viewers. Chris Gallagher said:
â€œThis programme was a disgrace and was the worst example of journalism I have ever seen on the BBC. It had no scientific or journalistic merit and seemed intent on fabricating sensationalistic panic.â€
RS: And Frasier Macintosh told us:
â€œIt seems to have been entirety constructed to prove that Wifi was potentially harmful, rather than to genuinely investigate where or not if it is. The programme continually used emotive terms such as radiation which whilst correct are poorly understood by many people and often associated with radioactivity. This was not helped by computer graphics showing radiation leaking into peopleâ€™s everyday lives without their knowledge or consentâ€
RS: Paul Kenyon you were the Panorama reporter involved here. Viewers have pointed out that it is not right and ignores the basic laws of physics to compare radiation from a 100 meters away from a mast and 1 meter away from a computer. Have they got a point?
PK: I think that the main point of the programme really was that we had the governmentâ€™s chief scientist Sir William Stuart who has in a previous report said that he is concerned about mobile phone mast radiation falling on any part of a schoolâ€™s playing grounds. Now that point that was about four five years ago when he made those comments we decided what we would do is try and investigate if Wifi had a similar level of radiation (sic). We find it has slightly more.
RS: But what viewers have said is it is completely wrong to go 100 meters away from a mast and compare the reading 1 meter away â€“ they are not the same things.
PK: Iâ€™m told they ARE the same thing. I mean we have to rely on the scientists who we use as consultants for programmes like this. But a number of scientists who I spoke to this morning again just to check and 100 meters from the mast is seen as the main beam of radiation rather like a lighthouse coming down where the light hits the floor we took it at the highest point of radiation and compare it with where a childâ€™s head would be coming out of Wifi.
RS: These readings were taken by a lobbyist, why didnâ€™t you get somebody completely independent to do them for you?
PK: What we did is use this man you call a lobbyist purely to take the readings, we didnâ€™t get him to comment on anything at all. He wasnâ€™t interpretingâ€¦
RS: Why not stay completely out of the battle as it were and get someone totally independent? Why didnâ€™t you do that?
PK: With hindsight maybe this is something we could have done differently. Maybe it would have been an idea to get Alistair Phillips to do some readings and another scientist to do the others. I accept that as a fair criticism.
RS: Another criticism from viewers and there really are quite a large number of these criticism: you went to Norwich and took readings there but good science has a control you didnâ€™t go to a city without Wifi hotspots and do a comparison. Why was that?
PK: Norwich wasnâ€™t used as a comparison with anything else. We went to Norwich purely for the school, but whilst we were there because it was a hotspot we decided to look at the radiation on the street. We didnâ€™t make a big point of that itâ€™s so far beneath the limits itâ€™s not all that relevant. This is a place where people hadnâ€™t had a lot of say in it but they are living in an area where there are higher levels of radiation than perhaps other cities. Itâ€™s beneath the limits soâ€¦
RS: Another thing the viewers noticed that they were 23 minutes into this programme before an alternative point of view was given. That scientist, Mike Rapocholi, was then in a sense rubbished it was made clear he had been employed by the industry. Why no independent source to put another point of view? And we have looked into your main Swedish scientist and 1600 Swedish scientists voted him â€˜MISLEADER OF THE YEAR in 2004â€²
PK: Did they? Thatâ€™s not good.
RS: â€¦for his views on electromagnetism â€“ the very subject of your programme, and there seems to be an imbalance between your right to prove something rather than an objective study.
PK: I take your point and I didnâ€™t know that about professor Yohanson at all. But out position was that there is a mainstream accepted view on this and I think itâ€™s a role that Panorama can play to challenge that mainstream sort-of culturally accepted norm.
RS: Can you carry this out without putting the alternative point of view?
PK: I think we did put the alternative point of view it was there in the script. We kept saying this is a minority of people who feel this etc etc. But I understand what you are saying it a fair point but we were there to as I say to question the mainstream opinion of the moment which I feel we did fairly well. I just keep coming back to. Just one final point. When Sir William Stuart the governmentâ€™s chief advisor tells us that he is concerned I think heâ€™s an eminent enough erm er er scientist for us to take that as something Panorama should be reporting, which is all we did in effect.
RS: Viewers have also pointed out that there are a large number of products in our home that give out low level radiation including some said broadcast radio and television. So those actually watching your programme may have been getting a small dose of radiation? Isnâ€™t this a bit of a problem that you singled out Wifi?
PK: These are low levels of radiation, a lot lower than comes out of Wifi. The point about Wifi and the reasons there hasnâ€™t been any studies on the health effects of Wifi is that itâ€™s new but it is also pulsing radiation and the only other form of radiation that we come into contact with frequently is from mobile phone masts. So itâ€™s a very different concept and that I must say Sir William Stuart is of the view that should be a review purely because it is pulsing.