A Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) PR spinner has been editing the Wikipedia page of the mining giant, while a video entitled “FMG’s Great Native Title Swindle” uploaded by Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation expressing their concern over a native title meeting was deleted last night by host Vimeo.

The PR battle over attempts by mining magnate Andrew Forrest to strike a deal with an indigenous group to allow an iron ore mine in the Pilbara is heating up. The WA opposition has begun to apply the blowtorch to the mining magnate for his conduct at the meeting. WA opposition leader Eric Ripper said he would refer the video of the meeting, at which Forrest and FMG executives were present, to parliament.

“I do think FMG is inappropriately interfering in the internal politics of the native title group,” Ripper told the ABC yesterday.

Fortescue are currently seeking land use agreement from native title holders to allow the mining giant to build a new iron ore mine in the Pilbara. With negotiations at a stalemate and a Federal Court judgement looming, Forrest has attempted to strike a deal with a breakaway group of 200 Yindjibarndi people.

Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation CEO Michael Woodley says he can “only speculate” as to the reasons for the video’s sudden disappearance from Vimeo. In the video (which has since been uploaded to YouTube) the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation expresses its concerns over how the meeting was conducted by FMG. Woodley told Crikey last week that he thought the video showed Forrest was “still talking to the black fella of old”.

“We don’t exactly know why the video has been deleted,” he said this morning. “They reckon we’ve breached some kind of Vimeo law. So we’ve sent an email back to them asking them to explain what the breach was. We haven’t received a response yet but I think Vimeo have been pressured here in some way.”

Crikey asked Vimeo this morning to provide a reason as to why the video was deleted, but did not receive a response by deadline.

Fortescue spokesman Cameron Morse says his company has had no contact with Vimeo about the controversial video. Forrest has conceded it was a “tough meeting” but defended his actions, saying that the majority of claimants were happy with the outcome of the meeting.

“I thought it was a superb meeting, it was a very tough meeting and the community voted 126 – 0 for opportunity and responsibility over welfare,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fortescue has been busy editing references to the case on its Wikipedia page. Spokesman Cameron Morse told Crikey this morning that he edited the page to “correct inaccuracies”.

Wikipedia is maintained by a community of users who write and edit entries. Most pages are unlocked and allow anyone to make changes, however Wikipedia maintains a history section so edits can be tracked and altered if they do not fit the website’s code of conduct.

On Sunday and Monday a Wikipedia user with the name “CJMorsey” made four edits to Fortescue’s page, along with edits to the pages of Forrest and FMG government relations chief Deidre Willmott. In his first edit, Morse deleted an entire paragraph which referenced the Yindjibarndi video:

“Methods of gaining rights and access to traditional lands have been considered questionable and protests from local aboriginal residents mount. FMG’s actions and processes of gaining agreement with traditional owners into a land use Agreement are shown in the video FMG’s Great Native Title Swindle.”

After that paragraph was reinstated by a Wikipedia user because it was removed without reason, Morse deleted it again. When that paragraph was subsequently restored, Morse replaced it with this:

“Divisions within the Yindjibarndi #1, which is the native title claim group for part of Solomon, have emerged which has lead to a meeting to resolve how the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation will conduct future negotiations with Fortescue. Some aboriginal activists claim FMG’s actions and processes of gaining agreement have been questionable. The National Native Tribunal and the Federal Court have found Fortescue negotiated in good faith. The action is now before the full bench of the Federal Court.”

Morse was issued a rebuke by one member of the Wikipedia community for not conforming to Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View policy:

“Wikipedia articles should refer only to facts and interpretations that have been stated in print or on reputable websites or other forms of media.”

When contacted by Crikey, Morse said it was “very appropriate” for him to be editing his company’s Wikipedia page.

“If there’s inaccuracies on those pages we’re going to correct them like we do in all media,” he told Crikey.

Eventually, after some back and forth between Wikipedia users, all references to the Yindjibarndi video were removed from Fortescue’s page because they failed to provide a “neutral point of view.”

Morse also attempted to edit out all references to the Yindjibarndi dispute in the career section on Twiggy Forrest’s page. In one edit on April10, Morse replaced a section of criticism with the sentence “[Forrest] has worked hard to end aboriginal disadvantage through education, training, employment and housing.”

The edit was removed thirteen minutes later by a Wikipedia user who said “both sides” needed to be included for balance. In the video taken down last night by Vimeo, Forrest says he should be judged on his actions, not his words.

“What we’re asking here, particularly for you mob over here who’ve just heard that complete and utter bulldust from Michael. If you give me the opportunity and you give my company the opportunity I want to do the same thing for you. I have one message give, and I’ve been giving this ever since I became a businessman, the more you know Aboriginal people, the more you love them. I deeply respect Aboriginal people.”

On two occasions Morse also expunged the word “controversial” from the page of the head of FMG’s government relations unit Deidre Willmott, a claim which relates to Willmott’s time as a chief of staff to WA Premier Colin Barnett:

“She was born in Bridgetown, Western Australia. She studied law at the University of Western Australia. After working as a commercial lawyer she was a controversial Chief of Staff for two Western Australian Premiers, Richard Court and Colin Barnett.”

Both times the reference was reinstated by other senior Wikipedia users who said the “controversial” tag was supported by references to outside material. Morse told Crikey that he had performed the edits on behalf of the company and had not been asked by Forrest or Willmott to make the changes.

Willmott reluctantly stood aside as the Liberal candidate for Cottlesloe before the 2008 election to make way for a returning Colin Barnett. As a consolation Willmott became the premier’s chief of staff before standing down over a conflict of interest claim. She left a post as coordinator of WA’s CHOGM meeting soon after to join Fortescue.

In 2008, a user with the name “Cameron Morse” made five edits to the Fortescue page, mainly relating to the spelling of chairman Herb Elliott’s name, upcoming planned shipments and a then-unresolved dispute with fellow mining giant BHP over the use of a railway line.

Peter Fray

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