Monday, 1 April 2013

Payne in the But(t)e

Argyll and Bute Council's handling of a schoolgirl who blogged about her lunches demonstrates an amazing lack of media awareness.
Only one person, I predict, is going to come out of this with any credit and that is the very enterprising nine-year-old Martha Payne, from Argyll, who began publishing photographs of her Lochgilphead Primary School lunches on 30 April.
Her blog Never Seconds (you can access it here) has already had more the 2.7 million hits.
Martha even uses it to raise money for charity. So far more than £2000. Good on her.
The blog even had Jamie Oliver tweeting: "Shocking but inspirational blog. Keep going, big love from Jamie x."
The school itself, we are told, has been very supportive.
But the Town Hall Jobsworths have reached for their rule book and clip boards.
"Martha", they ordered "yer banned".
Banned only from taking photographs, it must be said, not banned from blogging. But the pictures in effect ARE the blog.
A council spokesman said press coverage of the blog had led catering staff to fear for their jobs.
Martha gave each meal a 'food-o-meter' and health rating, and counted the number of mouthfuls it took her to eat it.
You might have thought that was very inventive and creative, showing an enviable interest in the world around her. The sort of thing schools are there to promote among their pupils.
In these sorry times when the NHS among others are issuing warnings about childhood obesity how refreshing to find a young person actually calorie counting.

Some posts were very positive. One read "Lunch was really nice today and it helped to cheer me up."
Of course, it wasn't especially helpful of the Daily Record newspaper to publish a photograph of Martha alongside chef Nick Nairn under the headline "Time to fire the dinner ladies."
(Why don't headline writers think before they put finger to keyboard?).
But in a classic case of sledgehammer to crack a nut-ritional enterprise the council has declined to engage in dialogue and simply gone for the nuclear option.
The decision to ban Martha from taking photographs has been criticised by Scotland's Education Secretary Mike Russell, who is also the MSP for Argyll and Bute.
At the last count the story on the BBC website had generated almost 900 responses, the vast majority supporting Martha.
One respondent wrote: "We need more of this not less, make it compulsory! In my opinion every school and hospital for that matter should do this. After all a focus on customer care is a good thing and will drive up for the councils excuses they are very weak."
The council have got themselves, almost literally, into a pickle over this.
Why didn't they meet with Martha and her parents, in private at first and then later on radio and television to discuss the issues?
Raising awareness often brings an unexpected solution (for example a company prepared to sponsor some of the cooking or the budget).
Censorship is rarely easy to justify and what sort of example does it set to the kids in the school?
Do anything original and we'll hammer you.
Even on a basic crisis news management level council chiefs have been left with egg mornay all over their faces.
Emails, Tweets and Facebook messages have gone around the globe and now put this tranquil Scottish backwater firmly on the map for all the wrong reasons.
Can the pen-pushers get themselves out of this toad-in-the-hole? I doubt it.
I expect, however, the council has one more initiative up its sleeve.
Instead of calling the dinner ladies to a meeting and telling 'em their jobs are NOT on the line, officials will probably send them instead for counselling.
In case they sue the authority for Post Tapioca Stress Disorder.
STOP PRESS: It appears the council has at last seen sense. Go here
Well done Cllr Roddy McCuish, the council leader.
I also received a thank you from Martha's dad for my blog post
Great link! Thanks George. It's been a roller coaster! Looking forward to normality returning but I think the world has changed. Thanks for your support without it nothing would have changed.
But the satire countinues

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