PR industry blames 'cumbersome' Wikipedia for Finsbury editing issue

Finsbury has been revealed to have cleaned up the Wikipedia entry of billionaire oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

Wikipedia: editing in the news
Wikipedia: editing in the news

This morning’s Times has revealed that the firm led by Roland Rudd has anonymously edited the billionaire’s Wikipedia entry.

In particular, the agency is reported to have removed from the Wikipedia entry all mention of a ‘freedom of speech’ row after Usmanov is said to have issued legal threats against bloggers.

The agency is also understood to have removed details of Usmanov’s Soviet-era criminal conviction, which was later overturned by the Uzbekistan Supreme Court.

Usmanov is Britain’s second richest man, who is best known for his large shareholding in Arsenal.

The news follows a number of high profile issues over agencies cleaning Wikipedia entries on behalf of clients – earlier this year, Portland was found to have cleaned client Stella Artois’ entry of all references to its ‘wife-beater’ nickname.

PR industry commentators have put the blame at the feet of Wikipedia itself and its ‘cumbersome’ editing processes.

Diffusion co-founder Daljit Bhurji commented: ‘In my mind there is a distinction between PR agencies editing Wikipedia to remove negative but true statements and editing Wikipedia to rapidly remove factual inaccuracies that harm reputation.

‘I think recent guidelines have gone too far in saying that responsible agencies should be unable to do the latter, in an open and transparent way.’

PRCA director-general Francis Ingham added that the site’s internal process for amending inaccurate or inflammatory material was ‘opaque, time-consuming and cumbersome’.

‘While we would not condone PR professionals anonymously amending Wikipedia entries, we understand why frustration sometimes drives them to do so,’ said Ingham.

Ingham added that ‘too many of the people who edit Wikipedia still do not understand PR’.

‘Too many of them continue to have the knee-jerk reaction that information from a PR professional must intrinsically be wrong.’

Ingham urged Wikipedia to implement ‘radical reform’ to its editing process.

The company apologised for the edits after being approached by The Times. It said: ‘This was not done in the proper manner nor was this approach authorised by Mr Usmanov. We apologise for this and it will not happen again.’

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told the newspaper: ‘It is a disappointment that PR firms or lobbyists think that this is what they have to do when we’re here, we’re free, we’re open. We have a community very keen to correct errors.’

Newgate Communications executive chairman Jonathan Clare said that Finsbury have 'done the right thing in that they have apologised, but it does get to the heart of the accuracy and lack of control of social media'.

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