There are more and more questions about the already controversial Heinsberg study. Did the state government let them push through the media? In any case, it complies with the Prime Minister’s political goals.
NRW Prime Minister Armin Laschet (CDU) worries about the economy in his country in times of Corona. That is understandable and his job. With the aim of loosening the strict lockdown rules in NRW as soon as possible, the so-called Heinsberg study seemed to provide welcome news. In the study, the virologist Henrik Streeck from the Bonn University Clinic is researching the corona spreading routes in Gangelt in the Heinsberg district.
Relaxation based on the Heinsberg study
Unusually for such complex research projects, Streeck published the first interim results on Maundy Thursday (April 9th, 2020). Streeck emphasized that the collected results already met the requirements of the World Health Organization. It is now possible to enter the “second phase”: the “beginning withdrawal of the quarantine.” In short: The corona measures taken in Heinsberg were effective and Laschet’s cautious demands for an easing of the lockdown are justifiable.
For the state government this was apparently enough as a basis for the decision on possible easing: You need "sound justifications" for the "preparation for the time after the crisis," explained Laschet, so they are happy about the results.
On Wednesday (April 15, 2020) the federal and state governments announced the first steps towards easing the situation.
Since then, skeptical questions have increased not only among scientists about these results, but also about what prompted the virologist Streeck to publish the half-finished study now. And why the state government takes them as a yardstick despite well-founded doubts.
Private PR company paid advertising for the study
Another piquant detail about the study is that the study was advertised by means of a comprehensive media campaign even before it was completed: the positive reports on Twitter and Facebook were already rolling in a real PR campaign. It is controlled by the PR agency Storymachine – whose bosses and founders are in turn ex-Bild boss Kai Diekmann, ex-Stern.de boss Philipp Jessen and event manager Michael Mronz.
Laschet has been in close contact with Mronz for some time in an effort to bring the 2032 Olympics to North Rhine-Westphalia.
According to its own information, the state government supported the "Covid-19 Case Cluster Study" with 65,315 euros. In a small inquiry, the SPD member of the state parliament, Sarah Philipp, wanted to know who would have commissioned the Storymachine agency. The answer came with a flexible sentence: "The state government has no knowledge of its own". Neither Streeck nor the University Clinic Bonn would have received any money for the PR agency to take over communication for the study.
But it went into full force: She created accounts such as @Heinsbergprotokoll on Twitter and Facebook, under which the results were published. The State Chancellery’s press conference was also streamed live there.
"State government of staging"
Such massive PR campaigns for a public project paint a public image "that is essential for the acceptance of the study results and the resulting political measures", criticizes Philipp. And the state government is "obviously part of this PR staging itself". She believes that Laschet is using the current situation for "a kind of election campaign event of its own" for the CDU chairmanship, for which Laschet is currently applying.
The German Council for Public Relations, a kind of voluntary self-regulation of the PR industry, has now announced that it will examine "the communication around the Heinsberg Protocols" more closely, as chairman Lars Rademacher told WDR. There is a suspicion that the senders of the publications have been concealed.
German PR Council: "Very unusual approach"
Apparently the publications of the Heinsberg study are "mixed financed", so Rademacher: Two companies neither from the medical nor from the scientific field belong to the financiers. The fact that the PR agency itself should also have invested money is "highly unusual" and allows suspicion of a "pro bono campaign". A voluntary service by professionals – in this case apparently in favor of a NRW state government.