Friday, June 15, 2012

Ban on schoolgirl food blogger lifted

A nine-year-old old blogger has created a storm on the Internet after she was banned by her local authority from photographing her school meals, only for the the ban to be lifted hours later after the story went viral.

Martha Payne, from Argyll, began her blog in April this year but ran foul of Argyll and Bute Council who said press coverage of the blog had led catering staff to fear for their jobs.

The council took action following the Daily Record's coverage of Martha's cookery lesson with the Scottish chef Nick Nairn, which appeared to criticise the council, and of other articles in the paper.

On Thursday the girl posted a Goodbye on her blog saying she had been taken from her class by her head teacher and told she could not take any more photographs of her school dinners because of the press coverage surrounding her reviews.

"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," Martha said in her post. She also expressed her disappointment that her efforts to raise money for a kitchen for Mary's Meals might be thwarted.

But in what appeared to be a U-turn council leader Roddy McCuish later told the BBC he had instructed senior officials to lift the ban immediately.

Martha began publishing photographs of her Lochgilphead Primary School lunches on 30th April and although she gave some meals negative reviews, many were positive and balanced.

But she drew the ire of the council who said they "had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm [media coverage of the blog was] causing."

"In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen," a statement which seemed later to have been deleted, said.

Later in the day Kate Hughes, head of communications at Wolverhampton Homes, blogged her advice to the council on how to handle the situation.

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, also criticised the council. "Argyll and Bute council have made a dog's dinner of this. Rather than seriously deal with the pupil's concerns, they have chosen to silence her," he said.

The council had clearly never heard of the Streisand effect . By trying to silence her only attracted negative publicity, much worse than any lunch photos ever could.

In fact there was even a positive effect for Martha who received hundreds of messages of support. The council's attempt to silence her resulted in her blog getting more than 2 million hits. Furthermore the charity for which she was trying to raise money soared well above the £7,000 target set.

Martha had set up a website to help Mary's Meals, an international movement that sets up school feeding projects in communities where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education. Prior to all the publicity only £2,000 had been raised, but by late Friday afternoon more than £36,000 had been pledged.

A Mary's Meals spokesman said, "Martha's support for Mary's Meals has been amazing and we are extremely grateful for everything that she has done to help us reach some of the hungriest children in the world."

"We are overwhelmed by the huge response to her efforts today which has led to so many more people donating to her online donation page."

"Thanks to this fantastic support, Martha has now raised enough money to build a kitchen in Malawi for children receiving Mary's Meals as part of our Sponsor A School initiative and has broken the record for hitting a Sponsor A School online fundraising target in the quickest amount of time."

As for the blog, it remains unclear whether Martha will continue her food reviews, or if the storm of publicity and pressure from her council will crush her spirit. One hopes not.

Neverseconds blog / Sky / BBC / Mirror / Daily Record / Guardian / Telegraph / Channel 4 News / Montreal Star / Globe & Mail /

Update [Tuesday 19/06/2012]: Martha began posting pictures and food reviews again on Monday and her blog and charity efforts continue to be a success. As of late Tuesday she had raised more than £90,000 for her chosen charity. As well as the setting up of a new kitchen, to be named 'Friends of Neverseconds in honour of those who donated, the extra money will got to feeding thousands of school children in Malawi [Daily Record]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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