November 30, 2007
Panorama rapped over wi-fi report
BBC editoroial complaints unit finds programme misleading and unfair
The BBC has upheld complaints against an edition of its flagship current affairs series Panorama about the health hazards caused by Wi-Fi.
The programme, Wi-Fi: A Warning Signal, broadcast on BBC1 in May, explored whether the wireless broadband technology in schools and city centres posed a risk to health.
Two viewers complained that the programme exaggerated the grounds for concern and wrongly suggested Wi-Fi installations gave off a higher level of radiation than mobile-phone masts.
They said an experiment designed to test whether certain people were hypersensitive to radiation had been misleadingly presented.
Professor Michael Repacholi, a scientist who appeared in the programme, also complained that the scientific issues had been presented in an unbalanced way and that the treatment of his own contribution to the programme was unfair to him.
Today, the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) said the programme reflected concerns about Wi-Fi that had been expressed by the Chairman of the Health Protection Agency, Sir William Stewart.
It said it was “legitimate” to focus on questions raised by an eminent scientist. But added: “The programme included only one contributor (Prof Repacholi) who disagreed with Sir William, compared with three scientists and a number of other speakers (one of whom was introduced as a former cancer specialist) who seconded his concerns.”
“This gave a misleading impression of the state of scientific opinion on the issue. In addition, Prof Repacholi’s contribution was presented in a context which suggested to viewers that his scientific independence was in question, whereas the other scientists were presented uncritically. This reinforced the misleading impression, and was unfair to Prof Repacholi.”
Panorama said it was now planning a meeting to explore issues of balance and fair dealing with contributors in relation to scientific and medical topics. The ECU finding will also be marked on the programme’s website.