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Nine-year-old NeverSeconds Food Blogger Martha Payne 1 Argyll and Bute Council Censors 0

Posted on the 15 June 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Nine-year-old NeverSeconds food blogger Martha Payne 1 Argyll and Bute Council censors 0

One of nine-year-old Martha Payne's school dinners. Photo: NEVERSECONDS/MARTHA PAYNE

The background

A ban on a nine-year-old girl food blogger taking photos of her school dinners at her school’s cafeteria in Lochgilphead, Argyll, Scotland, has been hastily lifted after her local councils act of censorship was fiercely criticised.

Pint-sized blogger Martha Payne was told yesterday by Argyll and Bute Council that she could no longer take the photos to illustrate her NeverSeconds blog, which has notched up more than two million views in just six weeks and won the support of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. But today the council backed down on the decision. The reversal is widely attributed to the fact that the council came in for plenty of stick on micro-blogging site Twitter when it banned Payne from snapping her (often pretty dodgy looking) grub.

Jamie Oliver, who has campaigned long on hard for school dinners to be made more healthy, tweeted “Stay Strong Martha.”

Council leader Roddy McCuish told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that he had ordered an immediate reverse of the ban, imposed earlier this week. He said: “There’s no place for censorship in Argyll and Bute council and there never has been and there never will be. I’ve just instructed senior officials to immediately withdraw the ban on pictures from the school dining hall. It’s a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I’ve certainly done that.”

The blog

At her blog, Payne rates her own school dinners and invites others from around the world to share their school dinners by sending in snaps. The blog gives a score out of 10, a “health rating” and even the number of hairs found in each meal. In one entry about having chicken fajitas for lunch, Martha wrote: “I’d really like to know where the chicken comes from so I am going to write to the lady in charge to ask. I know it comes from a hen but I’d like to know where the hen lived.”

Why the council got involved

The Guardian explained that “the problems began when newspapers picked up on the blog. Martha had been posting anonymously as Veg, but they named her and the school, often adding their own criticism of the food. The final straw for the council appears to have been a Daily Record piece with the headline, ‘Time to fire the dinner ladies.’”

Martha’s no trouble-maker

In an interview on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Dave Payne, Martha’s father who helps run the blog, said the blog had never been intended as an attack on the council. “The last photograph of a meal at school which she blogged, she gave it 10 out of 10. She enjoys the atmosphere in the school dining hall, she enjoys the staff, everyone’s been very kind to her,” he said.

Tom Chivers of The Telegraph considered the council’s original censorship action to be “extraordinarily embarrassing and faintly disgusting.”

Council should be deeply ashamed of their actions

“The council apparatchiks who silenced nine-year-old Martha Payne are a disgrace,” boomed Donata Huggins at  The Telegraph, who insisted that banning her taking pictures was “absurd.” “So much money gets poured into initiatives to improve children’s eating habits, their ‘civic engagement’ and literacy, but as soon as a child does all this and makes an impact, some busy-body shuts her down. This little girl got children across the world excited about healthy eating (she attracted images of other children’s dinners from Germany, Japan, Finland, Illinois, Spain and America). She even asked her followers to donate to a charity called Mary’s Meals that funds school food in Africa, raising £2,000. The poor council must have been embarrassed. How awful for them to accept that a little girl has done more for healthy eating than the thousands of pounds it will have taxed off the locals to spend on well-meaning but useless schemes.” Huggins argued that more students should be blogging about how their teachers and council “fail them. Think of the laziness and stupidity that could be called to account. I’d love to know what would have happened if I’d blogged my way through school, an under-performing state school in Herts. I wonder what reaction I’d have got if I’d blogged that my German teacher couldn’t speak German?” Huggins celebrated that the internet “has brought about the chance for a rebalance of power” and urged kids to “blog about their experiences, shaming councils and schools wherever they can.”

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