SIRC – Media Watch 17-09-99
Although the subject of mobile phones has not appeared for quite some time in this column, its ability to make the headlines has not entirely dissipated. This summer the number of cellular phones in Italy reached 25 million and thus surpassed the number of 'landline' units in the country. While embracing mobile phones to a point where nearly every other person in the country owns one, some Italians have begun to express concerns about the number of phone masts required to service this thirst for on-the-go-communication. To keep up with demand, 200-300 new transmitters have to be installed every month, a figure that is meeting with increasing hostility particularly from the inhabitants of densely populated residential areas.
Fredirico Polidoro's apartment building in Rome is draped with a protest banner. He has managed to collect the signatures of 1,500 neighbours and has successfully managed to deter four attempts by a cell phone company to erect a transmitter on the roof of his tenement block. The irony is that under a new law passed last year Italy now has one of the most stringent controls on electromagnetic field emissions in the EU. Angelo Lozito, a physicist from the environmental protection group Legambiente, is quick to point out that: "The perception of risk is strongly distorted. They don't know that in the house, the clock radio, the refrigerator, generates far more [electromagnetic] pollution."
Back home, researchers from the University of Surrey have identified a revolutionary new symptom of extended mobile phone use: "telephonitis" a repetitive strain injury caused by the cradling of phones in the crook of the neck. While the Evening Standard piece reporting the story ran the headline Mobiles are a pain in the neck, it correctly noted later on in the article that this new ailment was not necessarily specific to the use of mobile handsets. Obviously the association between mobile phones and heath risk was just too tempting a correlation to resist. Protests against phone masts continue in this country also. The latest group to express their concerns were the East Sussex 'branch' of the British white witches who reportedly were chanting "Vodaphone begone" in a ceremony at the Long Man of Wilmington.