It started with the masks. At first it was said that they would hardly help in fighting a pandemic like Corona. A short time later, wearing a mask was compulsory. It was the first communicative disaster in the Corona crisis. Most recently, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn got bogged down when he wanted to ration Biontech. Breakdowns in communication were to be expected, says the PR expert Gisela Goblirsch. And they could hardly have been avoided. The upcoming federal government has apparently learned – and seems to be trying to prevent similar mishaps in the future. But she should do more, says the expert.
ntv.de: In the corona pandemic, there was a lot of trouble in communication in some places. Is there a reason for such mishaps?
Gisela Goblirsch: In the current corona pandemic, I don’t think you can say that politicians have done a bad job. They couldn’t make a really great one. If we look into the past from today, then of course we all know everything totally better. But in the past the situation was impossible to survey. Let’s look back to when the virus was new. Nobody knew what it could do. Even the scientists were confused. A politician can certainly not overlook the issue. Or he may see so many divergent aspects that he cannot go public with them because he is afraid of panic. So he rather weakens what he thinks he knows. There is no such thing as the perfect politician who comes out as a hero.
One problem is the many different assessments of the crisis, which some politicians change every week. Why does something like this happen and how is it received by the population?
Communication works through many channels and from many mouths. In this pandemic it is just like this: If, as the person responsible for the functioning of a country, I am afraid or concerned about panicking people – and unfortunately people tend to panic – then I naturally have a problem. The politician’s fear is not unfounded. People want security. And that is not the case in this pandemic: there is no security. It was problematic that the most varied of political persons repeatedly communicated other, new aspects incoherently. Outwardly it comes across as follows: Wow, they all don’t know what they want, everyone says something different. This makes people even more insecure. That was a big mistake by the current government.
What about the media? Does this also cause communication problems?
Of course. The more, the more diverse and the more diffuse platforms are offered to present one’s own opinion, the more opinion is of course also generated. And the more I can emotionally arouse myself as a consumer of the information about something, the more ready I am to follow a discussion. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone wants to express their opinion. Of course, this also applies in the current pandemic, where various opinions have been drawn through talk shows, newspapers and podcasts for almost two years. In many people this creates the feeling: Nobody knows what it really is, so it must be really terrible. Or else: This is all just nonsense!
From a communicative point of view, would it have made sense to give the fight against pandemics its own face?
If we’re talking about a neutral person with whom all the wires come together, a pandemic spokesman, so to speak, then that would have been a very good idea. It would not be a good idea to have a central political face or a central purely scientific face. Neither of them worked either. People contradicted each other, put their respective statements into perspective – that wasn’t so cheap. It would actually have required a neutral speaker and the silent agreement of the other active members to let this person take the stage. Then it might have been possible to counter the things that have been going on on the web in the last year and a half. The new federal government should definitely think about this.
What else does the coming government have to do to avoid repeating the communication mistakes of the old government?
What the new government is planning now is a good idea: the crisis team. Many companies in the economy use this successfully to get out of a crisis. In this pandemic in particular, the government should consult scientists who are looking at developments from as many perspectives as possible. This includes virologists, of course, but also mathematicians, for example, who present scenarios in an understandable way of how something could develop. You need someone who takes economic relationships and processes into account from both a theoretical and a practical point of view. Someone who dares to come up with new thoughts. Also someone who deals professionally with the behavior of people in a multicultural society. Lawyers should be there. But the most important component is time. But of course we don’t have that in the current situation. The virus mutates and spreads at an incredible rate.
Why didn’t the current government come up with this idea?
I think she just realized the situation too late. At first it was not clear to anyone what this virus could cause. You also need the right people for a crisis team. In the meantime, almost two years have passed in which many well-trained scientists have gone public that can now be used for such a crisis team.
The corona pandemic will haunt us for a long time. What should the traffic light coalition do in the next four years from a communication science point of view?
I would like the government to present the history of the pandemic in its historical course and ask itself when did what actually happened that had a massive impact. It would be a sensation if the population could see that things in this crisis do not stand for themselves, but are interdependent. I would really like to see the spread of the issue explained in a way that makes people realize that this pandemic is gradually threatening everyone, regardless of whether you get infected or not. Because we have a health system that is way over the edge. The risk increases every day that patients can no longer be properly cared for in an emergency.
What immediate measures should the new government take in terms of communication?
I would like the government to single out and pay really well those who have to pay for all the crap, the nurses, the doctors, the hospitals. This system has been saved for decades. I would like the actions of those who do not see that their actions lead to a worsening of the situation, finally have consequences. And the new government needs to keep the people engaged who have acted for the community. She urgently needs to praise the vaccinated!
Marko Schlichting spoke to Gisela Goblirsch