James Rosewell writes:
"Mobile: new cancer alert" - The Daily Telegraph
The front page of Saturday's Telegraph led with the headline "Mobiles: new cancer alert" re-igniting fears about mobile phone usage. The centrepiece of the article is "a £20 million, decade long investigation, overseen by the World Health Organization (WHO) will publish evidence that heavy [mobile phone] users face a higher risk of developing brain tumors later in life". How should this topic be reported and what will it mean for our industry?
Reading this article I was reminded of the UK media's reporting of the potential dangers of the combined Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. For those unfamiliar with the history, the MMR vaccine is a single injection given to children to protect them from the 3 diseases. It's provided free on the NHS, which no longer offers the three separate injections. Parts of the media seized on a small part of the research that was presented poorly and many parents refused to vaccinate their children. Years later there's a whole generation exposed to health risks as a result - and no matter how much additional accurate research and reporting is performed setting out the facts that show a health risk does not exist, the damage has been done.
The mobile phone research will not be published until the end of the year and is certainly not definitive. The media should wait for those who conducted the research to accurately present their findings before publishing this article. The mobile industry will now be forced to go on the PR offensive to protect their business and will inevitably be accused of hiding the facts or other dubious practices, potentially doing more damage.
However, the government should revise their advice to the public to something a little stronger. To my mind, advice from the Finnish government seems to represent the best balance. That is "Children's use should be restricted: sending text messages instead of talking, making shorter calls, using a hands-free device and avoiding use when [the] connection is weak."
This research represents an opportunity for the mobile industry to agree a clear statement concerning the health risk and change business practices if necessary without governments needing to intervene. The worst possible outcome would be comparisons with the tobacco industry and similar government response.
Reducing the power of mobile phones has many advantages beyond possible health reduction. Longer battery life for one. Using headsets to keep the higher radiation components away from the head changes the design of the mobile device. How about two-part phones consisting of a small headset and separate screen charged using a power mat rather than leads? The screen could work without the headset.
The mobile industry needs to prepare for the future and respond quickly and decisively with one voice... once the facts are out.