Letter: Health risks

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The Independent Culture
Sir: I was interviewed by The Independent about a speech I was giving today (15 June) to the Health and Public Relations Association. This was a lengthy interview of a reflective nature about health risks, how they are perceived by the public and how they are covered by the media.

Instead of a balanced article addressing the themes that I was raising, your story in today's paper takes a narrow and controversial angle, and misquotes me as "condemning Richard Branson for being alarmist", about mobile phones. I did not condemn Mr Branson, I did not criticise him, I did not accuse him of being alarmist.

I made one comment about mobile phones to illustrate the wider point that if a risk is suggested, many people are unsure of what action they should take regarding their health when the subject is still being researched, and some prefer to take action (as Virgin has) rather than await research. I also pointed out that I thought that the BSE crisis had altered the way the public perceived statements about risk.

Your story confirms my thesis - if there is a sensationalist angle, a newspaper will more often take it at the expense of dumping copy that would otherwise help to advance a vitally needed public debate to enhance public understanding of a complex subject.

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