Richard Desmond, the billionaire former owner of adult television channels and top-shelf magazines, has spent years having his Wikipedia edited in a failed attempt to remove any suggestion he is a “pornographer”.
The former owner of the Daily Express and Channel 5, and one of Britain’s richest men, appears to have become fixated with his biography on the open-source encyclopedia. To this end, an account operating on behalf of Desmond has repeatedly edited the article to replace the description of him as a “pornographer” with the term “philanthropist”.
According to legal documents seen by the Guardian, Desmond says he cannot factually be described as a pornographer because that term applies only to individuals who publish illegal and obscene material. Desmond says the top-shelf magazines and television channels he owned for decades were instead in the legitimate “adult material” category distributed in high-street shops and on Sky.
The former owner of the magazines Asian Babes and Readers’ Wives, who owned adult outlets from the 1980s until 2016, has now hired lawyers to demand Wikipedia permanently deletes any mentions of the word “pornographer” from his biography.
Lawyers acting for the businessman this week asked Wikipedia administrators to investigate edits to the page, actively monitor it in case the word is reinstated, and keep “genuine, factually correct, edits by Mr Desmond” on the page.
“The use of the term ‘pornographer’ when applied to our client is at least factually wrong, gratuitous and insulting, and at most commercially damaging,” they wrote.
His lawyers claim that Wikipedia editors who describe Desmond as a pornographer may be commercial motivated as part of a “strategy by business competitors to harm his public image”.
“Attempts have been made to rectify the factual errors by Mr Desmond numerous times. Despite this, each time, editors have reinstated the term ‘pornographer’,” the lawyers wrote.
As part of Desmond’s legal threat, the lawyers confirmed he has spent three years having his own Wikipedia page edited through an account with the username NewsEditor1959. Although it is unclear who is operating the account, it has been used to remove references to Desmond’s work in the adult industry and add substantial sections about his donations to charities such as Moorfields eye hospital.
NewsEditor1959 also cut references to how Desmond’s company allegedly hid copies of Penthouse magazine when Princess Anne arrived to open the company’s new office.
A representative for Desmond declined to comment.
Desmond, 69, has largely exited the media industry in recent years after offloading Channel 5 to Viacom for a substantial profit and selling his newspapers to Reach, the publisher of the Mirror. According to the Sunday Times Rich List, he is the UK’s 107th-richest man.
However, he hit the headlines again last year amid claims he had inappropriately lobbied the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, at a Tory party fundraiser to approve a major redevelopment in Canary Wharf, London. Jenrick later said he regretted the episode.