tip off

And the Wankley goes to … the Daily Tele’s mobile radiation shield story

Wherever he was on Thursday, Stephen Fenech’s ears must have been burning, but it wasn’t because of harmful electromagnetic radiation from his mobile phone.

Fenech, technology writer for The Daily Telegraph, probably overtook Bolt and Devine as the most talked-about and tweeted-about person in tabloid journalism after his byline appeared on an extraordinary article that raises significant questions about competence, conflicts of interest and journalistic ethics.

Under the headline “Mobile Radiation Shield Released”, Fenech reported on the launch of a product “that’s smaller than a five cent piece but powerful enough to shield us from the potentially harmful electromagnetic radiation generated by mobile phones and other electronic devices”. Based on the accompanying photograph, the device itself appears to be a shiny sticker that is simply stuck to the back of a mobile phone, with no electronic connection to the phone’s workings.

Without pausing to use cautionary phrases such as “according to the manufacturers” or to acknowledge sources of claims, Fenech told readers that the Q-Link Mini, which sells for $48, comes “programmed with naturally occurring frequencies which resonate with our body’s energy system”. There was not even a hint of objectivity, let alone scepticism, as this fearless reporter on matters technological asserted that the device “shields us from exposure to outside stresses and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) which can cause sickness and disease”.

The only acknowledged quotes in Fenech’s article were from a naturopathic physician — who said his tests show that patients’ mobile phones are “weakening them considerably” leading to fatigue and headaches — and the CEO of Q-link Australia.

Although there’s nothing anywhere to indicate that it is anything other than independent editorial content, in many places Fenech’s piece uses language identical to that found in promotional text or the scripts of video voice-overs found on the Qlink website, the URL for which appeared at the end of the article.

Disbelief and anger about Fenech’s piece grew rapidly on Thursday on Twitter and among bloggers. But after posting an initial brief defence of his article on Twitter at 11:01 am - “No it uses scientifically proven technology. Very interesting stuff” — Fenech and the Telegraph went to ground. Fenech has said nothing on Twitter since, despite being the subject of hundreds of mentions. And the Telegraph disabled the comments feature for Fenech’s article online.

The Q-link website is peppered with pseudo-science and phrases such as “human energy system” and “sympathetic resonance technology”. It lists several “scientific” papers that it says support the Q-link “technology”, which includes the flagship Q-link pendant, Q-link armbands and even a USB-powered Q-link device, as well as the new Q-link Mini.

Those references were comprehensively critiqued on Thursday by sceptical blogger A Drunken Madman and found not to have used any accepted scientific method, such as proper controls, objective measurements and endpoints, or “blinding” of investigators and experimental subjects being tested.

An earlier version of the Q-link pendant was deconstructed in the UK and found to contain no working circuits whatsoever.

Readers of The Telegraph are surely entitled to assume that its technology writer has some scientific knowledge as well as a dedication to presenting a critical perspective on new technologies, especially in regard to issues such as health and safety. Yet, Fenech’s approach starts from a position of blind acceptance of what reads like a belief system or faith, with its talk of “subtle energy physics”, “frequencies”, “resonance” and “stress”. And like others, it attracts the usual suspects: Anthony Robbins, Deepak Chopra and Madonna are among those named as users and endorsers of Q-Link products. Bart Cummings is also said to wear a Q-link pendant all the time.

So is Fenech just bad at his job, a lazy hack who’s happy to lift passages verbatim from press releases and promotional material? Is he a gullible and deluded “true believer” who’s been hoodwinked by  its bizarre pseudo-science? Or is there something even more troubling about his relationship with Qlink?

Stephen Fenech is the younger brother of former NRL player and personality Mario Fenech, and co-authored Mario’s autobiography.

It’s remarkable that Stephen Fenech does not acknowledge in any of his pieces that brother Mario promotes the Q-Link pendant, via a testimonial that reads like a scripted endorsement:

I was tested before and after wearing a Q-Link Pendant and within a couple of minutes all of the stress in my energy system was gone … Less stress, better health, more energy, you can’t ask for much more than that. It’s remarkable how quickly you’ll realise it’s the real deal.”

The other strong Fenech connection on the Q-Link website is Stephen himself. Under “In The Media”, the company provides PDF copies of several newspaper and magazine articles, many of which read like advertorials.

At least twice before, in March 2004 and again in December 2005, Stephen Fenech has written not only uncritical but positively evangelical feature articles about Qlink products, the only disclaimer being acknowledgments that he has trialled and bought a Q-link pendant himself. The Telegraph has also published other pieces that read like advertorials in its health and lifestyle lift-outs.

Fenech’s silence and the unwillingness of The Telegraph to accept comments leaves several serious questions unanswered. Has Stephen Fenech, his family or the Telegraph received payment in cash or kind in relation to this long history of generous and uncritical editorial coverage? And do Stephen Fenech or his family have any proprietary interest or shareholding in the company that promotes Q-link or stand to benefit from any additional Q-link sales?

Lawyers for Apple may also be taking a close look at Fenech’s piece, given that the accompanying photo showed a Q-Link Mini attached to an iPhone with the clear imputation being that iPhones emit “harmful electromagnetic radiation”.

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  • 1
    Pete from Sydney
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    speaking of Wankleys…what did the mention of who his brother is have to do with the story above? While we ‘re at it, by 100s of bloggers, what exactly do you mean? 100/500/900?

  • 2
    furrybarry
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Obvious troll is obvious Pete.

  • 3
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I look forward to hearing about this travesty on Media watch next Monday…

  • 4
    mm569
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Erm…Pete?

    It’s remarkable that Stephen Fenech does not acknowledge in any of his pieces that brother Mario promotes the Q-Link pendant, via a testimonial that reads like a scripted endorsement”

    Pretty sure that’s why.

  • 5
    nicolino
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Anyone gullible enough to fall for bunkum like this has too much money and too little native intelligence. Magnetic blah blah, life force blah blah. What charlatans.

  • 6
    lindsayb
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    in addition to the iPhone, the picture appears to show the iFeminineHygineProduct, making Apple the clear leader in exposing us to dangerous radiation. Could be interesting, as Apple lawyers tend to be on the attack-dog end of the legal spectrum.

  • 7
    chief
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    The article appears in a search of the site:

    http://search.news.com.au/search?us=ndmdailytelegraph&as=DTM&q=mobile+radiation+shield

    But the link is dead.

  • 8
    Bill Dennis
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    The article’s been pulled from the Daily Tele website. Fenech hasn’t tweeted since 11am yesterday. Things Are Afoot, methinks.

  • 9
    John Bennetts
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Why blame the messenger?

    On what basis is this goose employed by the Tele? What standards of reportingare demanded by the Tele of its writers? Does the Tele give a continental about conflicts of interest?

    Come to think of it, on that last point, the answer can be found in the current slew of jobs held by the son and father of Limited News and related entities.

    This is really a story about quality control in the media, or lack thereof. That Fenech is no smarter or ethical than his sibling is beside the point.

  • 10
    mm569
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think that’s true at all John. The responsibility has to lay with the journalist, no matter what publication s/he works for.

  • 11
    John Bennetts
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    @MM569:

    I where you are coming from, but the mighty Murdoch empire is full of shallow thinkers and flag-wavers. This guy has previous form.

    The Tele is the problem. This article is about a symptom.

    The solution is to sideline the symptom and then fix the problem, but who and how will undertake this task?

  • 12
    GocomSys
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    The Daily Telegraph? Anybody still reading this junk?

  • 13
    GocomSys
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    The Australian? Anybody still touching this rubbish?

  • 14
    Paul Murray
    Posted Friday, 5 November 2010 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Was in a woo shop the other day, they had water that had been enhanced with natural frequencies. Which frequencies, I wondered, were the natural ones? The first that came to mind was “daily”. Is the water just left outside in the sun, do you think, to energise it?

  • 15
    mook schanker
    Posted Saturday, 6 November 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I think you will find the device is actually a ‘flux capacitor’. Was also bandied about on TT or ACF or one of those promo, oops journalistic shows…

  • 16
    jhahilt
    Posted Saturday, 6 November 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the thing works. Has anyone used it and found it to be useless ?

  • 17
    Posted Sunday, 7 November 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    As I watch Insiders on ‘our’ ABC I want to know who specifically finances Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Institute?

  • 18
    sometimes
    Posted Sunday, 7 November 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I used to consider it so peculiar that these products can be sold with no restriction or regulation, and that media outlets bear no hesitation in peddling them, knee-deep in conflicts of interest and outright lies.
    But…thousands of people are hungry for this manner of fraud, and voraciously demand it. A skeptical attitude towards these sorts of products seems frustratingly rare.
    Why is mostly everyone okay with these scammers engaging in constant deceit?

  • 19
    kpath
    Posted Sunday, 7 November 2010 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    I note that Stephen Fenech is National Technology Writer at News Ltd. He reports to the National Technology Editor, Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson. Has anyone spoken to Jennifer? As the national editor, she clearly made the decision to run this rubbish. The blame goes higher than Stephen alone.

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