The banning of the blog

School dinner

Argyll and Bute, I think it is fair to say, isn't often in the news. But now local councillors have come up with a brilliant scheme to put their region in the west of Scotland on the map. They've reportedly banned a primary school pupil's blog.

UPDATE 13:57 BST: The ban on Martha taking photographs of her school meals has since been lifted.

The blog in question is called NeverSeconds, and describes itself as "one primary school pupil's daily dose of school dinners". The idea is simple and brilliant. The author Martha, who calls herself "Veg", takes a picture of her meal each day and writes a review, coupled with a few thoughts about her day.

Very quickly, a community has grown around the blog, with other pupils from far and wide sending in pictures of their own meals. It has attracted attention from national newspapers and even from Jamie Oliver.

But yesterday Martha was called out of a maths lesson and told that her blogging had to stop. The decision, according to her father, was not taken by the school, which has been very supportive, but by the Argyll and Bute council.

It's not quite clear why - perhaps there is a ban on taking photos inside schools, or maybe there is some concern about the damage to the reputation of the school meals service.

I prefer to think there is another explanation - and that this is all a cunning plan by the councillors to draw attention to their beautiful region with its dramatic coastline, and fine cuisine. It seems to be working - the case of the banned blog is rapidly becoming a cause celebre, with emails, tweets, and presumably phone calls arriving at council headquarters from around the world.

Amongst the many tweets this morning as #NeverSeconds became a trending topic, I spotted this from Twitter user @Marshallmedia: "A classic example of local government failing to grasp the power of social media @argyllandbute could have made PR gold from #neverseconds."

But surely that is to underestimate the smart people at the council. Without the ban, this excellent blog would have received far less attention. I imagine that a couple of weeks ago one of those well-paid social media consultants arrived at the council offices in Kilmory and laid out a strategy which would generate "PR Gold " - a global Twitter storm, and mentions on national radio and TV. It seems to be working...


A couple of things I should make clear. A few people have been in touch to point out that Argyll and Bute council has not banned Martha's blog - just banned the taking of photos in the school canteen. As the whole point of the NeverSeconds blog is to show pictures of school food, the effect seems to me to be the same, but I'm happy to clarify that issue.

Oh, and some people have taken rather too seriously my suggestion that the whole affair was just a PR stunt got up by the council. I forgot to include this warning:

Caution - May Contain Irony.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    19 LawrieG

    Have you not heard of DRM (dinner rights management)?

    It's the timing I find strange. It would have made more sense either to nip it in the bud when it first made the headlines, or let it run for another month until the end of term.

    Mind you, in my day, the same meals used to turn up week after week, so I dare say she could always just recycle the photos she's already taken!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Shame on you Argyll and Bute council.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Surely if this little girl has paid for these meals then she is free to do what she wants with them. Photo them, frame them bin them even eat them , her choice surely!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    The blog hasn't been banned. The girl has just been asked to stop taking photos. The way that the press has picked up on this and joked (?) about the dinner ladies getting sacked meant that a 9 year old was being put in a rather awkward position that she's hardly mature enough to handle. it seems reasonable to try & play things down. Pity the parents don't agree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The council's actions are hilariously out of touch.

    Martha should start an art project, sketch her dinners (much like the TV crown court sketches of the accused before the judge) and scan them in, I'm sure that will help her get round this technicality.

    And improve the image of the food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    We may have more pandas than conservative MP's.
    But the conservatives do have one positive policy.
    Make it easier sack incompetent staff.
    A few people at Argyll and Bute Council should get their jotters for this.
    The director of education for a start, and whoever else had a hand in this debacle.
    The child does write an extremely good blog. Now her freedom of speech and expression is banned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Do you really think councilors are intelligent and sophisticated enough to devise a "cunning" PR stunt? They banned her because of a Daily Record headline that suggested it might be "time to fire the dinner ladies" - it caused offence and upset a few people locally. So the council banned Marsha's blogging, instead of approaching the newspaper for an apology. It's a terrible, embarrassing decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    An important point Rory failed to mention was that the blog was a tool for raising money for charity.

    'Martha had been using the blog - which she started with the help of her father Dave - to raise money for the Mary's Meals charity.' quote from the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Nice one Argyll and Bute:

    Stamp out creativity in a nine year old because you don't have the guts to face up to criticism.

    Remember - you are servants of the people, not their masters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I can't believe that someone would go out of their way to shut down something so positive. Councils just don't get the internet, when it's such an important part of modern day life this really annoys me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    As I understand the law about taking photos, the school can stop her but why does the council think they have that power? The head of the school should take a stand, allow photography within limits (only of her dinner?) and set the correct example to the pupils about not kow-towing to petty-minded local bureaucratic officials and their need to interfere at every level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    A PR disaster... but over something that doesn't matter. So an inconsequential one at that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    5 @Graphis

    Spot On.

    I think the council are just protecting her - now the police/MI5 have nothing to snoop,

    May and co must believe that school dinner details are a national secret, and this child is somehow putting national security at risk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Ridiculous. You'd think the council officials could find a more productive use for the exorbitant amount of money they collect in taxes. Why is it necessary to constantly remind these people they are there to serve us and not the other way around.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    2 xyriach

    As I understand it, the specific request was that Martha should stop taking the photographs, not stop writing the blog, although the outcome is essentially the same. I can understand the decision in some ways, but it is a bit of a PR disaster, at least in the short term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Making yourself look like an idiot really isn't the best way of promoting your area...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I reckon the council's acting under orders straight from Theresa May... clearly the child is a threat to the public and must be stopped! It's the thin end of the wedge, people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    How to land yourself in a deep PR hole: ban freedom of speech and be nasty to a child. A&B Council should be deeply ashamed. Not only for the banning but for the appalling quality of food they apparently serve up to their children. I've looked at the whole blog and it all looks deeply unappetising. No wonder kids are said to smuggle in unhealthy food elsewhere if this is standard fare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It is extremely doubtful that it was intentional. I'm yet to see a council that attracts negative attention on purpose, it's kinda goes against their programming.

    The way this has been handled it's more likely that they will get pressure to spend more to resolve the issue without getting friendly additional support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Can they legally enforce that? I seriously doubt that the little girl signed anything akin to a confidentiality agreement.

    The council should look at this as an opportunity to gain additional funding for school meals, this sort of coverage isn't easy to come by.

    And now they've Striesanded themselves!


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