An advisory group to the German government has come under fire after recommending the press be “disciplined” to facilitate stock market listings of start-ups.
An 11-page position paper titled “IPOs of German Start-ups”, which for several weeks was published on the website of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs, called to establish “rules to avoid biased defamatory articles” about candidates for initial public offerings.
One of the authors of the paper, German venture capitalist Christoph Gerlinger, stepped down from the advisory group on Tuesday after economics minister Peter Altmaier said the paper had been taken down from the ministry’s website.
Christian Vollmann, chair of the group and founder of regional social network Nebenan.de, apologised and said on LinkedIn that the wrong version of the paper was published by mistake. “Our internal control mechanisms failed,” he said.
In the paper, the authors argued that negative coverage of young technology companies had become widespread among financial journalists in Germany, citing critical reports about the listing of lossmaking company Delivery Hero, which went public in 2017.
The authors also suggested that financial media should also be “obliged” to cover smaller IPOs that otherwise would “fall between the cracks” at large media outlets. Moreover, financial bloggers should legally be required to publish their full identity, and should be made liable for stating “false allegations and insults”.
The recommendations come as revelations, in the Financial Times, of the fraud that led to the collapse of German payments start-up Wirecard continue to ripple through German institutions and regulators. Wirecard and Germany’s financial watchdog BaFin filed criminal complaints against FT journalists reporting about whistleblower allegations, and the company sued the FT and one of its investigative journalists, seeking damages. Public prosecutors in Munich only dropped a criminal investigation against two reporters after Wirecard filed for insolvency.
The advisory group’s 29 members — including Eckart Diepenhorst, European chief of Free Now, a ride-sharing company owned by Daimler and BMW, Fabian Heilemann, a partner at Earlybird Venture Capital, and André Schwämmlein, founder of FlixBus — advise the economics ministry on digital policies and new technology.
Florian Nöll, a PwC Partner who is listed as a member on the website, said on Twitter that he had resigned from the body before the current controversy.
Lea-Sophie Cramer, a German entrepreneur, and Alex von Frankenberg, head of Germany’s state-backed High-Tech Gründerfonds, were also named among the paper’s authors.
“The freedom of the press is a stellar fundamental right, and we are obliged to protect it,” Altmaier said on Tuesday. On Twitter, he added that he had not been aware of the paper and its publication until Monday, when Handelsblatt reported it. The paper, dated April 2021, was published online several weeks ago.