Wikipedia entries slag off Palmerston North

Last updated 12:13 19/06/2009

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References to gang violence and crime on Palmerston North's Wikipedia page have seen overseas investors and professionals shy away from the city.

The Palmerston North page on Wikipedia a volunteer online encyclopedia features a crime sub-heading that mentions the 2002 gang violence in Highbury, including the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Black Power associate Wallace Whatuira.

While there were gang issues between Mongrel Mob and Black Power gang members in the early 2000s, the suburb has since experienced drops in crime, unemployment and gang activity.

The Wikipedia pages of other New Zealand cities, such as Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Tauranga, Dunedin and Christchurch, do not contain crime sections.

Even Wanganui, where 2-year-old Jhia Te Tua was shot dead during a 2007 gang dispute, does not have any mention of "gang troubles" on its Wikipedia page.

MidCentral Health medical recruitment consultant Christine Wood said there had been two cases where doctors, one from Israel and another from Germany, had declined work in Palmerston North after looking the city up on Wikipedia.

"Obviously it [Wikipedia] googles quite well, so if they are looking for Palmerston North from Europe or the Middle East, it will come up.

"Usually they've decided to come to New Zealand, but it's about where.

"If you were making a choice between Palmerston North, and for the sake of argument, Hamilton, on seeing that you'd think, `oh it's got a problem, I don't want to go there'."

Mrs Wood said while some overseas doctors were still coming to Palmerston North, the city did not need any further recruitment hurdles. She approached Palmerston North City Council staff last week to see if they could alter the page's content.

City council executive support general manager Jane Julian said the council had altered some unsubstantiated claims and deleted a gang subheading on the page.

"Wikipedia was talking about the gang troubles. Things were not great out there, but it made it sound like Palmerston North was racked with gang violence.

"The reference to gangs has changed, it has been toned down a wee bit ... and we have put in a whole set of data so that people can see that crime is trending in a better direction."

The crime heading remains on the page, but it now features referenced information about how Palmerston North improved from 36th to 7th in a 2008 list of lowest crime figures.

Ms Julian said council staff were monitoring the site to see what was posted about Palmerston North.

"The council is keeping an eye on Wikipedia and trying to make sure it's balanced.

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"There has been a person who is insisting on keeping the crime stuff on there."

Harcourts sales consultant Murray Swainson said it was often hard to sell property in places such as Highbury because of perceptions people got from Wikipedia.

One Asian investor changed his mind about buying a Highbury property after being referred to Palmerston North's Wikipedia page by a friend, Mr Swainson said.

"It's just annoying that Palmerston North's been labelled that way."

Wikipedia could not be reached for comment.

- Manawatu Standard

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