07/01/2011 - BBC should apologise to MPs and to Parliament
We claim that the BBC acted in a most inappropriate and rude manner by posting on-screen comments during Mr Tom Watson's Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons on 20th December 2010. These comments, some of which were factually incorrect, contradicted the valid concerns being expressed on behalf of the public by the two MPs. The adversarial comments were displayed to the nation while the MPs were actually speaking. We see this as blatant lobbying by a news organisation. The MPs would not have been aware of the comments. The comments have been quietly removed by the BBC from the version that is on the BBC i-player.
We noticed the rather empty chamber and are disappointed by the apparent lack of interest in this important topic by other MPs.
Congratulations to Tom Watson, MP, and Bill Esterson, MP, for raising these matters.
The two MPs expressed concerns about possible long-term adverse health consequences of mobile phone use, especially by children and young people.
While the MPs were speaking, the BBC were displaying misleading on-screen text comments about this topic. We reproduce the comments below, most of which were used repeatedly. Click on the images below to expand them and see our responses.
Mr Tom Watson Labour MP for West Bromwich East, presents the case that the Government and industry could do far more to protect the public from any risk to health caused by mobile phone use.
Not only do people claim it, but the few epidemiological studies there have been Internationally have found significant increases in health effects from those living near mobile phone masts. There have been no attempt to replicate these studies in the UK, and no explanation as to why, despite repeated requests for such UK studies.
The HPA would be wrong if they did state that - we suspect they do not use those words. Indeed, they currently state that Base Station emissisions "may impact adversely on well-being". There have been over ten peer-reviewed published scientific studies in other countries finding adverse health effects. Until the government and industry in the UK fund such studies we have to rely on reports from other countries.
This is very misleading. The study actually concluded that there did not appear to be a increase in brain tumour risk from short term mobile phone usage (which we already know), and actually did find the beginnings of an association for more than ten years mobile phone use. We have covered this in greater detail
elsewhere, and other independent researchers have discussed the findings
, including the association found, in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
This refers to the INTERPHONE paper that we have discussed in the caption of the previous image. See our coverage
and Lennart Hardell et al
's correspondence in the Journal.
Essex University only investigated short-term subjective effects following one 40 minute exposure to a mobile phone call. They tested healthy students and staff at the university. This does not relate in any way to long-term use of a mobile phone. No one seriously suggests that one 40 minute phone call will make people ill. This is not what this Adjournment Debate was about.
This does not state who these "researchers" were. Some researchers have, indeed, claimed that all such effects are psychological. Other researchers claim that the effects are caused by real physical stress from the phone signals. It seems relatively clear that stress and worry do affect people, and as people are worried about mobile phone masts there will be some effects which have a psychological origin. However, stress effects from mobile phone related signals have been demonstrated in tomatoes, birds and animals, and it is difficult to see how those could be attributed to psychological factors.
We would not expect to see a rise in the overall brain tumour incidence rate yet. It typically takes between 20 and 40 years for a brain tumour to grow to a size and effect that it is diagnosed. As the main take up of mobile phone use is at the very end of the 90s, we wouldn't expect to see a significant increase (visible in yearly trends) until around 2015, and even the most recent analysed data only looks at incidence rates up to 2008 or 2009.
This is not a valid reason to assume there is actually no mechanism. For many years there was no known mechanism for smoking to cause lung cancer and the mechanism is still unclear for passive smoking. There is "no known mechanism" between a number of cancer causing agents and the cancers they are thought to be associated with. Despite this, several mechanisms have been suggested, with limited support, whereby mobile phone emissions could have an impact on tumour promotion.
If the BBC wants to challenge the views of MPs then it should do so a current affairs programme such as Newsnight. It is completely out of order for them to act as judge and jury and write on-screen comments during MP speeches.
You may download a PDF file (40KB) of the debate.
Alternatively you may download from
You may also watch the debate, now without the adversarial comments. (about 45 minutes)
Powerwatch has filed a formal complaint with the BBC about this incident and other people may also wish to do so, given the evidence we show above.
You may also wish to complain to the BBC about this.
- Complaint type: BBC News
- What is your complaint about: TV News
- Programme title: BBC Parliament - House of Commons - Adjournment debate
- Transmission date: 20/12/2010
- Complaint category: Bias
- Complaint summary: Completely inappropriate and factually incorrect on-screen text comments while the MPs were expressing their very different views in the debate.
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