Nine-year-old school dinner blogger gagged

UPDATE 1.35pm : Argyll & Bute Council have lifted the ban on Martha Payne’s school dinner photography.

Photographs included in the blog of a primary school student’s school dinners have been banned by her local council.

Martha Payne, from Argyll in Scotland, started her blog Never Seconds, “one primary school pupil’s daily dose of school dinners”, to document the food served at her school, and rate them with marks out of ten.

In a blog post entitled “Goodbye” yesterday evening, Martha, known as Veg, explained how she had been taken out of her maths class by the head teacher, and told that she could not take any more photos of her dinners after a headline in a newspaper.

Since she began blogging Martha has used her blog to raise money for charity Mary’s Meals, who set up school feeding projects in communities struck by poverty. The young blogger asked readers to join her “in helping give lunch to children that really need it.”

Martha explained that she was sad that she would no longer be able to take pictures, and receive pictures from followers, and added “I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.”

Prior to the final post on her blog, which had been backed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Martha had blogged daily, detailing what she had eaten, and marking her lunches in categories including “number of mouthfuls”, “health rating” and “pieces of hair”. In response, users from around the world shared images of their school lunches, which Martha also published on the blog.

The young journalist and activist’s father took to the blog to provide readers with a little more detail on the day’s developments. He wrote:

“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.”

It is a shame that a blog that today went through 2 million hits, which has inspired debates at home and abroad and raised nearly £2000 for charity is forced to end.”

Photographer Paul Clarke questioned what issues the council may have been troubled by, adding:

“If I may, I’ll just park the “obvious” one – that they don’t want to be criticised publicly. The relevant issues to my mind are some old favourites in relation to images and technology: place, control, liability and of course precedent.”

Since posting her Goodbye, interest in the blog has spiked, with 425 people commenting on her post, and a massive increase in donations to her JustGiving page. At the time of posting, the activist’s Just Giving page had shot up to a massive £10,819.70 in donations.

One photo published on the blog showed an “alright” pizza, while another blog post added “the good thing about this blog is Dad understands why I am hungry when I get home.”

Argyll and Bute Council have confirmed that they have asked the schoolgirl to stop taking photographs of her lunches. A strongly worded statement released today said:

“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. 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.

“There have been discussions between senior council staff and Martha’s father however, despite an acknowledgement that the media coverage has produced these unwarranted attacks, he intimated that he would continue with the blog.

Twitter users have taken to the microblogging site in support of the blog. Jamie Oliver tweeted:

Conservative MP Louise Mensch tweeted:

while Daily Telegraph Editor Tony Gallagher dubbed Argyll and Bute “the most stupid council in Britain” and described the decision as “the daftest own goal in a long time.” #Neverseconds was also trending on Twitter before 10am.

Councillor Mike Harris, also Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship said:

“Councils often seem to forget they have the duty to protect freedom speech. When you get absurd cases like this, or the example of South Tyneside Council suing one of its councillors for libel, it shows that local government isn’t up to speed on its legal obligation to protect and promote free speech.”

As the website’s stats hit 2382060, and continue ticking over, it seems Argyll and Bute Council have created themselves a bigger PR disaster than an innocent blog from a young girl ever would have. Food for thought, if nothing else.