Does the department of Marketing and Communication take political considerations into account when they choose whether or not to issue a press release? A study about migrants was not widely publicised at the beginning of this year, because populists might catch on and abuse it. No, that was not the reason, says the spokesmen.
January 2019. Jean-Paul Selten, professor of Psychiatry in Maastricht and psychiatrist in Leiden, has published a study about the increased risk of psychoses among migrants. Selten would like a press release to be issued and contacts the information officers.
His wishes are denied. The communication department feels that it is too “risky”, fears that populists such as Wilders and Baudet will use the results to their advantage, according to Selten. His study shows that migrants with a dark skin colour run the greatest risk of suffering from a psychosis: four times as much as the indigenous population in the country in which they have arrived.
Selten is “not amused”, but does not force the issue because he feels that the matter has already been decided.
That was not the case, says UM spokesman Mark van der Linde, with whom Selten discussed the matter. Van der Linde sketched scenarios, he says. “And where the migrant study was concerned, one of those was that populist politicians could misuse the findings. You try to create an image of how things will be received by society.”
Van der Linde claims that the ‘populist’ scenario was not the reason why a press release was not distributed. “We seldom do so nowadays where it concerns a study. It doesn't yield enough. We did approach journalists from quality newspapers - Trouw and Volkskrant - personally about Selten's study. But they did not go as far as to publish.”
For every request by a researcher, says Gert van Doorn, head of Media Relations, we map out a strategy. “If we manage to arrange an interview with a quality newspaper, the chances of a more balanced story is greater. At the same time, because the media follow each other, you can reckon on a broad roll-out.”
Why Van der Linde did sketch the scenarios, at first remains unclear. It is not in order to map out what is and isn't desirable, he says. The fact that populists would pick up on the results is not necessarily something that he wants to prevent. He does see it as his duty to point out to researchers what can happen.
Can such an outcome be predicted? Sometimes it can, says Gert van Doorn. “You know which themes are sensitive.” A few years ago, the department arranged an interview with daily newspaper NRC for Susan Rutten [professor occupying the endowed chair of Islamic Family Law]. Apparantly, the word ‘sharia’ was not mentioned once during the interview. Nevertheless, the heading was: Government should consider the positive elements of sharia law. “Then you know: here comes trouble.”
And trouble did come. Rutten was suddenly known as the ‘sharia professor’, received threats and questions were posed in the Provincial States of Limburg and the Lower Chamber. NRC later admitted in an article by the editor-in-chief, says Van Doorn, that the heading did not cover the content. “This is the field of tension that we are dealing when we publicise research.”
Van der Linde: “I also warned Rutten beforehand what could happen. But it was not a reason to not contact the press.”