The council and the NeverSeconds blog. Bullet meet Foot!

I remember reading about the NeverSeconds blog, which is a nine year old girl writing about her school lunches and raising money for a charity providing school lunches in African school a few months back, most likely on the BBC and thinking that’s nice, before moving onto more important news. Yesterday however the blog went from being a backwater internet site, sitting alongside the society for the observance of paint-drying’s blog to being on the front page of almost every major news website, both technical and otherwise throughout the world. Why? Her council decided to censor her. Big mistake.

Lets start from the beginning. Martha Payne studies at Lochgilphead primary school and each day takes a picture of her lunch and then provides some comments about it rating how good she thinks it is etc. She writes this blog with the support of her father and her school and uses her blog to raise money for the Mary’s Meals charity. Now enter Argyle and Bute council.

Yesterday, the BBC, along with technology websites I read such as The Register reported that Martha had been told she was no longer allowed to take pictures of her lunch apparently in response to this article published in The Record newspaper, which apparently reduced kitchen staff at the school to tears and made them fear for their jobs – described by the council as “causing distress and harm”. What the council didn’t seem to understand though is that intelligent people already know school dinners are crap and that this blog isn’t actually going to massively change anyone’s opinion. What will make an impact however is censoring a nine year old and so it went.

In what is known as the Streisand effect where an action results in a minor story becoming a major event, within minutes of the article hitting the internet, people were complaining to both the council and the MP for Martha’s constituency. Hundreds of comments were posted in response to the news articles and her blog gained millions of extra visits. At this point I commented privately that this ban would probably last until Monday and then there would be a U-turn that would make any of our Prime Ministers proud.

Turns out I was wrong. Just hours after the story making the news the leader of Argyle and Bute council made a statement rescinding the ban:

“There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader. I have advised senior officers that this Administration intends to clarify the Council’s policy position in regard to taking photos in schools. I have therefore requested senior officials to consider immediately withdrawing the ban on pictures from the school dining hall until a report can be considered by Elected Members. This will allow the continuation of the “Neverseconds” blog written by an enterprising and imaginative pupil, Martha Payne which has also raised lots of money for charity.

But we all must also accept that there is absolutely no place for the type of inaccurate and abusive attack on our catering and dining hall staff, such as we saw in one newspaper yesterday which considerably inflamed the situation. That, of course, was not the fault of the blog, but of the paper.

We need to find a united way forward so I am going to bring together our catering staff, the pupils, councillors and council officials – to ensure that the council continues to provide healthy, nutrious and attractive school meals. That “School Meals Summit” will take place later this summer.

I will also meet Martha and her father as soon as I can, along with our lead councillor on Education, Michael Breslin to seek her continued engagement, along with lots of other pupils, in helping the council to get this issue right. By so doing Martha Payne and her friends will have had a strong and lasting influence not just on school meals, but on the whole of Argyll & Bute.”

I’m cynical so I suspect Councillor McCuish’s statement has less to do with disliking censorship and more to do with knowing when to stop digging. Either way, in this case sense has prevailed, so all is well with the world again, and in a nice twist to the story, Martha’s charity campaign which had raised about £2000 has now raised over £65000!

NeverSeconds blog (http://neverseconds.blogspot.co.uk/)

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