Wikipedia UK and Charges of Conflicts of Interest

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September 18, 2012; Source: CNET

Conflicts of interest can take many different forms and the charges being leveled against the core of those running Wikipedia UK is a good example.

The organization only won its tax-exempt status in 2011, but since then it has been beset by scandal. Trustee chairman and IT consultant Ashley van Haeften resigned last month after it was reported that he had been banned indefinitely from editing on Wikipedia. This followed his set to with other members regarding the inclusion of “explicit” material and charges that he had violated editing rules.

Now an investigation indicates that IT consultant Roger Bamkin, who was also a chairman of Wikimedia UK, and is still a trustee, placed an entry for the Government of Gibraltar, a paying client of his, on Wikipedia’s “Did You Know” page seventeen times. According to this article, the page is one of the most viewed on Wikipedia and topics rarely show up there multiple times.

Have you ever looked closely at the rules governing the sometimes-chaotic world of wikis? Bamkin obviously broke at least one of the following Wikipedia UK guidelines:

  • Selflessness: Trustees of Wikimedia UK have a general duty to act in the best interests of Wikimedia UK as a whole. They should not gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, their friends or the organisation they come from or represent.
  • Integrity: They should avoid actual impropriety and avoid any appearance of improper behaviour. They should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their role as Trustees of Wikimedia UK.
  • Objectivity: In carrying out their role, including making appointments (staff or trustee appointments) awarding contracts, recommending individuals for rewards and benefits or transacting other business the Trustees should ensure that decisions are made solely on merit.
  • Accountability: The Trustees have a duty to comply with the law on all occasions, in accordance with the trust placed in them and in such a way as to preserve public confidence in Wikimedia, and are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public, funders and service users. They must submit themselves to what scrutiny is appropriate to their role.
  • Openness: The Trustees must ensure that confidential material, including material about individuals is handled in accordance with due care and should be as open as possible about their decisions and action that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider interest clearly demands.
  • Honesty: The Trustees have a duty to declare any interests relating to their trustee role and to take steps to resolve any conflicts that may arise. Where private interests of a trustee conflict with their trustee duties they must resolve the conflict in favour of their trustee role. They must make relevant declarations of interest in the different circumstances and roles they play both within and outside Wikimedia.
  • Leadership: The Trustees should promote and support the principles of leadership by example. They must respect the role of the Chief Executive.

Here is Wikimedia UK’s response to the charges. –Ruth McCambridge and Aaron Lester

  • Jon Davies (WMUK)

    Beware of cut and paste journalism! The facts are quite different and Wikimedia UK has handled the potential for a conflict of interest in line with Charity Commission guidelines and expert legal advice. I know this is very dull and doesn’t actually make much of a headline – but if anyone does want to know the facts please go to our blog:

  • Gregory Kohs

    Note that Bamkin *has* resigned from the Wikimedia UK board, as he should have weeks ago. Jon Davies (previous comment) has a vested interest, of course, in downplaying the magnitude of this PR scandal.

    It’s refreshing to see the media giving this scandal the ample coverage that it deserves. Year after year, unsuspecting donors chip in $10, $25, $50, and more to support the Wikimedia Foundation, on the premise that without money, Wikipedia might have to shut down. We’ll in actuality, the WMF is spending on program services only 46 cents of every dollar it receives. The rest is wasted on overhead, “staff” members who look for things to do on top of the thousands of volunteers who are really keeping Wikipedia alive.

    Anyway, one thing I always am amused by — because it is so predictable — is this culture of denial and cover-up when the insider corruption at Wikipedia goes public. In fact, I wrote a news piece that carefully exposes the “denial” and the “cover-up” phases, with convenient links to every under-handed action of the True Believers. If you’d like to read:

    Great work, media — keep up the pressure on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. There’s plenty more just waiting for even a modestly-talented investigative reporter.

  • Steven

    There is no “Wikipedia UK”. There is an independent non-profit chapter called Wikimedia UK, but they don’t control Wikipedia.