Open Letter: CTV Toronto Reports on Wireless Debate Uncritically

The following letter was sent to the news director for CTV Toronto, following the poor reporting of a minor protest in Mississauga, Ontario by the Citizens for Safe Technology.  More on this story can be found in a blog post by Bad Science Watch’s Michael Kruse, blogging at the Huffington Post.

Ken Shaw, National Editor, News
CTV Toronto
P.O. Box 9, Station ‘O’
Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
M4A 2M9

Dear Mr. Shaw,

Bad Science Watch would like to express our deep disappointment and concern over the coverage offered by Ms. Pauline Chan on Tuesday Sept. 4th, 2013 on the CTV Toronto evening news, regarding the protest by members of Citizens for Safe Technology (C4ST) outside a Mississauga elementary school.

We found the coverage of the small protest against the use of wireless devices and the Bring Your Own Device program at the Peel District School Board was exaggerated (we have been informed by Peel Regional School Board that it consisted of no more than 5 people), was largely one-sided, did not report mainstream viewpoints, and misrepresented the veracity of the claims of Mr. Frank Clegg and C4ST.

We had been contacted earlier in the day of the broadcast by Elizabeth St. Philip, a producer with your national news desk, who was looking for expert sources to provide comment. Within the hour we had referred her to two academics from the University of Toronto who are experts in the effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation on humans. We also offered to provide our own comments for the reportage, as we recently authored a paper which reviewed the extensive scientific research into the health effects of WiFi and other EMF exposure. Our paper concluded that there was a lack of any support for the claims of bad health effects from WiFi made by groups such as C4ST.

Ms. Chan or her producer decided not to include any experts in the broadcast and instead reported only the erroneous claims and misinformation offered by Mr. Clegg (who is not an expert in any biological science) without question and without indication that they were fringe beliefs in contradiction to the consensus science. Further, we have been informed by a Peel Regional School Board public relations contact that the Board was not allowed to provide comment and instead quotes were extracted from content on their website. Health Canada and Peel Public Health were not directly contacted either, and instead empty, low impact quotes were reported, painting a picture of a public health system dodging probative questions from concerned citizens; a biased and misleading portrayal.

Most worrying were the “facts” offered at the end of the piece referencing the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, a fringe organisation that has no recognition as a medical authority and whose lack of credibility is routinely demonstrated by their casual disregard for facts and evidence in forming opinions. The claim that “30% of the population may be suffering from delayed effects of WiFi exposure” is entirely unsubstantiated and unsupported by rigorous scientific research. A simple Google search for published references would have revealed this, but Ms. Chan or her producers appear to have accepted this fact uncritically. The result was a report that spread a great deal of misinformation about a safe, proven technology that is helping thousands of schoolchildren every day, and stoked unjustified concern in the audience.

This report represents an utter paucity of respect for journalistic standards and integrity by the individuals involved. While it is common for smaller or less reputable news outlets to reprint press releases from self-interested parties wholesale, it is surprising to see a similar effort from staff at a station of CTV’s status and resources, purporting to offer important news about health.

As a news editor I am sure you hold to the highest of journalistic standards, and we hope that in the future this will be reflected in the work of your producers and other news staff. We would be happy to help with this by providing comment or experts for your reporters to talk to, on this topic or others.
Sincerely,

Michael Kruse
Chair, Board of Directors
Bad Science Watch

www.badsciencewatch.ca

Our position paper can be found here:
http://www.badsciencewatch.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/BSW-Anti-WiFi-2012-Position-Paper-UPDATED-Jan-27-2013.pdf

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