Wikipedia is investigating allegations of content manipulation by Bell Pottinger, following this week’s damaging coverage in The Independent.
Jimmy Wales, founder of the online encyclopaedia, said that a team of volunteers is looking into reports of a breach of conflict of interest on the lobbyists' part. Wales told media that he had offered to ‘pop by their offices’ to give a speech on ethical editing of Wikipedia. ‘But I guess they didn't think that was too amusing, so they didn't respond,’ he added.
Following this development, the chairman of Bell Pottinger parent group Chime Communications Lord Bell has told PRWeek that he had ‘a long conversation’ with Wales yesterday.
‘He offered to come in and talk to our people about the correct way to deal with Wikipedia. I’ve accepted that offer. If we’ve done things that are not in the spirit of the site, we’ll say so and acknowledge it, and improve our processes.’
Bell also revealed to that he is set to appoint a compliance officer, to ‘make sure we will comply with both the statutory and voluntary codes’, adding that his agency would be the first to do so. Bell claims that he has found the person he wants to do the job but could not confirm when this individual would join the company.
As Lord Bell launched his internal investigation into his employees' attempts to secure the Uzbekistan business, one well-connected lobbyist told PRWeek that there was ‘great dissatisfaction in senior levels’ of Bell Pottinger at the conduct of the employees who were secretly recorded speaking to undercover reporters.
‘Bell will defend them to the hilt in public, but behind the scenes he’ll be giving them the hairdryer treatment,’ said the source.
Lord Bell declined to comment on these remarks.
The news comes as the pitch document believed to have been written by the Bell Pottinger team has appeared on the internet. The opening slides show a more ethical side to the meeting, in which they explain that there will need to be ‘real and lasting reform’ in the country if the agency were to work on the brief.
‘Only the government of Uzbekistan can decide what changes it is ready to make and how quickly. But change is essential in order to change international attitudes,’ reads the presentation.
The document also outlines plans to create ‘formal and informal links’ with foreign secretary William Hague, Minister for Afghanistan and South Asia Alistair Burt, special adviser Arminka Helic and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn, ‘all of whom are well known to us’.
The document proposed a rapid-response mechanism to deal with negative stories, an ‘independent campaign website’ and the ‘drowning out’ of negative online content.