Risk communication: addressing the perceived health threats of mobile phones

Industry says science alone will not address public perception and concerns, joins Commission in encouraging further research.

The conference had two main goals:

  • Assess the effects of risk communication on the public at large
  • Exchange good practices among Member States on risk measures related to health concerns raised by mobile phones


A presentation byDr Wiedemann, from the Research Center Juelich in Germany, highlighted the limited effects of risk communication on citizens. Survey results showed the general public tends to favour arguments that are in line with the views it already holds on the issue and that warning messages are generally more powerful than reassuring ones. Risk communication by the authorities should therefore be cautiously handled, he believed.

Adam Burgess, a lecturer in sociology from Brunel University (London), pointed at what he called "risk entrepreneurs" who promote risk messages to the public that suit their own concerns and agendas. The danger for authorities when commmunicating is that they may end up confirming the public's initial fears (by opening an enquiry for example).

Speaking to EURACTIV, Jack Rowley from industry lobbyGSM associationsaid research should be prioritised and should focus on those specific areas where there remains scientific uncertainty. "Science alone will not address public perception and concern, Mr. Rowley told us, but rather consultation and communication." He said this implied that, "at some point, research on health risks could come to an end".

Mark Bogers, representing theCommission's DG Enterprise, noted that the 1999 Directive on radio and telecommunications terminal equipment does allow national legislation on masts to exceed EU regulation. He said more consistency and harmonisation would reduce uncertainty, not only for consumers, but also for industry. Commission services indicated that research should go on as long as there is a public concern, even if the latter is not based on scientific evidence.

Alan Freeman, Chair ofGSM EuropeHealth & Environment working group (representing telecoms operators), said he was impressed with the vast range of compliance involvement and communication measures being deployed from all sides but deplored the lack of NGO and media representatives on the floor. "The industry itself is taking good precaution against a possible consumer crisis", he remarked.

Michael Milligan, Secretary General of theMobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF), insisted on the need to produce co-branded communication material with all stakeholders in order to reduce public fears. He proposed that education seminars be organised that would include the media.


A conference organised on 20-21 January 2004 by the Commission and the mobile phones industry addressed the question of risk communication related tomobile handsets and their perceived threat to healthby EU citizens. Scientific researches on Elecromagnetic fields (EMF) - often contradictory - have accumulated over the years only to show that no conclusive answer could be drawn on their influence over human health.


There are no immediate next steps foreseen but both Commission and industry sources agreed that research on Electromagnetic fields (EMF) should go on as long as there are scientific uncertainties or that public concern remains about their potential threat to health.


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