5G leaflets sent out by government to dispel 'quack theories' about coronavirus

Government wants local authorities to ‘break down some of the barriers to rollout’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 27 August 2020 12:26 BST
Conspiracy theory about 5G and Covid-19 sparks online panic

The government is urging councils to distribute new leaflets aiming to “quell quack theories about 5G” following a spate of vandalism targeting phone masts.

Unfounded claims that the new mobile phone technology spreads coronavirus or causes other types of harm were the most common type of misinformation seen by the British public during lockdown, according to Ofcom research.

At least one person, Michael Whitty, has been jailed after setting fire to Vodafone equipment in Merseyside, and engineers have been abused and attacked.

The government warned that damaging communications masts could cost lives if emergency calls could not be made.

Ministers have written to local councils to promote a new guide that can be handed out to worried people in an effort to dispel misleading claims on social media.

The information pamphlet explains how 5G works and states that watchdog Ofcom found the wave emission readings taken from the masts are “a small fraction” of the amount permitted by the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

The guide, published on Thursday, says: “Companies have been rolling out 5G in the UK since 2019.

"However, some people have raised concerns that the introduction of 5G could affect people's health and have even linked it to the coronavirus pandemic.

"These claims are completely unfounded and should not be used as a basis to block or delay 5G rollout.”

Matt Warman, the minister for digital infrastructure, said the advice was intended to help councils “break down some of the barriers to rollout and give them the tools they need to quell quack theories about 5G”.

He added: “We want to help people get access to fast and reliable connectivity. It is a top priority for this government.”

‘Conspiracy theories are a symptom of a larger issue where people don’t trust politics and feel left behind’

Public Health England has said that 5G should have “no consequences to public health” and Ofcom has also been measuring the levels of electro-magnetic radiation emitted by masts around the country.

Philip Marnick, spectrum group director at Ofcom, said: “The UK has a great opportunity to be a world leader in 5G – making the most of the benefits this new technology offers people and businesses.

“So it’s important that public bodies work together to address some of the myths and misinformation around 5G, and that decisions are based on sound evidence.”

The government also called for more to be done to help find sites for masts and the installation of full fibre broadband.

Telecoms companies need to secure rights to install their infrastructure on public sector land and buildings but there are concerns some deals are not progressing quickly enough.

The most recent Conservative Party manifesto vowed to “bring full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025”.

Chi Onwurah, Labour’s shadow digital minister, said legislation needed strengthening to properly protect against 5G misinformation.

He said: “We welcome the government's moves to tackle the dangerous misinformation about 5G and the coronavirus which is putting lives at risk.

"But sadly, this guidance will not solve the problem without the government doing what is needed on the online harms bill to tackle misinformation on social media."

Researchers at King’s College London recently warned that the focus on social media to combat disinformation was too narrow, and that much of it was being spread by “political actors” and the media.

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