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Risk Communication Strategies for Possible Health Risks From Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields (RF-EMF) Emission by Telecommunication Structures

Fernandez, Prasana Rosaline1; Ng, Kwan-Hoong2; Kaur, Surinderpal3

doi: 10.1097/HP.0000000000001037

There is widespread anxiety and speculation about RF-EMF emissions by telecommunication base stations and structures, as it is perceived by some to be unsafe and a threat to public health. Scientists, medical experts, politicians, journalists, and mobile telecommunication company specialists are involved in an active debate on whether people are immune to RF or if we are gambling with our future. Interviews with 31 individuals from 7 stakeholder groups in Malaysia reveal that the residents’ main concerns are that the telecommunication companies do not follow guidelines and as a result the telecommunication structures are constructed close to their homes, which they perceive as a threat to public health. Some residents also do not want these structures because of cultural reasons, while some are jealous over rental income received by the landlords. Meanwhile, the authorities entrusted with safe-guarding public health are involved in a blame game as there is no agency that is clearly in charge. The interviews also highlight that the current risk communication initiatives are more reactive rather than proactive, and that the authorities do not speak in one voice. Based on the outcome of the interviews, eleven recommendations are formulated to improve risk communication initiatives in Malaysia. The recommendations stress on repairing, building, and strengthening trust, because trust in agencies, along with credibility, determines risk communication initiatives’ effectiveness. These strategies can also be effectively replicated across regions to deal with contestations over RF-EMF emissions and the impact on health.

1School of Communication, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Taylor’s University, Lakeside Campus, No. 1, Jalan Taylor’s, 47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia;

2Department of Biomedical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Lembah Pantai, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia;

3English Department, Faculty of Languages & Linguistics, University of Malaya, Lembah Pantai, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Prasana Rosaline Fernandez is a senior lecturer with the School of Communication, Taylor’s University. She obtained a PhD in critical discourse analysis from the University of Malaya, Malaysia. She has a BA (Hons) in Marketing & Business from Abertay University, Scotland, and a Master of Marketing from the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her research interests are in risk communication, health communication, critical discourse analysis, marketing communication, and branding. Her email address is

© 2019 by the Health Physics Society