NeverSeconds: No photography or comments on school dinners please
We live in a world where freedom of expression is protected under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as long as aforementioned expression is “in accordance with the law”. So, what made blogging about food illegal?
Martha Payne, the nine-year-old mind behind the NeverSeconds blog, which detailed her thoughts on her school dinners, was banned from taking pictures of her food each day – apparently the catering staff at her place of education were displeased, some in tears…
It would appear that, instead of the world previously described, we live in a totalitarian state governed by draconian councils who block citizens’ ability to report if they suspect the author intends to throw direct criticism their way.
OK, perhaps a tad strong, but this really did annoy me.
The blog itself contained less malice than any critique I’ve read in recent years and reads very innocently. This coupled with the ability to write negative reviews on food – or anything for that matter – due to protection from my all-time favourite libel defence, fair comment, leaves us with an interesting situation.
So what grounds did Argyll and Bute Council have to force Miss Payne taking photographs for the blog?
The council did only block young Martha from taking still images of her food in the lunch hall – however Argyll and Bute council must have known that would be the end of her blog.
The council released a statement (which was later overwritten but can be found here thanks to the ever-giving Twitter) claiming that Payne was now banned from taking photos because staff were in fear of losing their jobs.
It began: “Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs. The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing.”
This was followed by spurious PR waffle which attempted to bring attention to the good that the council was doing in the world as opposed to the attempted censorship.
NeverSeconds raised over £78,000 (and continuing to rise dramatically) for charity , was endorsed by likeable TV personality and chef Jamie Oliver and was viewed by millions of people across the globe – far greater exposure than most professional journalists receive.
Oliver spearheaded the backlash directed at the council, he tweeted in her support: “Stay strong Martha, RT this to show your support #neverseconds”- a message that was retweeted over 3,000 times.
Signing off, seemingly forever, she wrote: “This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.
“I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too.”
The paper in question was Scotland’s The Daily Record which wrote a story about the online phenomenon that Martha had created under the headline “Time to sack the dinner ladies…”
Dave Payne, Martha’s father, who encouraged her to write the blog, explained how the action was: “Dave, here. I felt it’s important to add a few bits of info to the blog tonight. Martha’s school have been brilliant and supportive from the beginning and I’d like to thank them all. I contacted Argyll and Bute Council when Martha told me what happened at school today and they told me it was their decision to ban Martha’s photography.”
The young girl was pulled from her class during a maths lesson by a head teacher, who informed her of the decision by the local council to force her to stop taking images of her school dinners.
I can’t help but think the council wouldn’t dare ask that of a seasoned hack or an informed blogger for fear of being told to jog right on. My words would have, perhaps, been slightly stronger.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, following one hell of a storm online (Twitter flexed its muscles yet again), the council was forced into a U-turn just hours after the initial decision. Transparency 1, totalitarianism 0. Long may NeverSeconds continue.
To see such rare ingenuity, from a child of just nine, censored is frankly upsetting. Perhaps Argyll and Bute Council assumed that in an age of communication, a well-read blog closing down due to council-forced image suppression would go unnoticed.Tagged in: Argyll and Bute Council, Dave Payne, dinner ladies, jamie oliver, Martha Payne, NeverSeconds, school, school dinners, twitter
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