Friday, 15 June 2012

Argyll and Bute censoring a 9 year old, why?

Argyll and Bute council have today released a statement as to why they have taken the measure to force a school, a school that had no problem with the following occurrences, to stop a 9 year old from photographing her school meals and posting them on her blog.

Let me critique a few of their reasonings for carrying out what, ultimately, amounts to censorship of the press*:

Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press

Unwarranted attacks? For a start it is not for Argyll and Bute to decide what is unwarranted or not. If this girl was attacking the council (which she was not) then she obviously feels it's warranted. Assuming that no actual lies or misrepresentations were made, hard to do with a real picture taken of real food, then it's not for the council to make any claims as to the legitimacy of any "attacks".

Not that they were attacks anyway, let's take a sample of the latest posts...

Lunch was really nice today and it helped cheer me up. Macaroni Cheese at school is so creamy and it's nice to have it with the crunchy radishes and peppers. You don't have to have mash with the macaroni but they offered me some and I took it as I always have mash if it's offered. We don't get jelly often, maybe about twice in every 4 weeks, and I like to put it on my spoon and suck it through my teeth. It's so slippy it doesn't really make a noise so I don't upset my friends!

There is always spag bol the day after mince pasta which I think are the same meal really. The fajita was lovely because there was no fat on the chicken and it was covered in salsa. I cut it up rather than pick it up in case I dropped bits which isn't popular. It is quite hard to eat peas and sweetcorn without dropping them but I was very careful. The dessert is called Australian Crunch but I don't know why. The only reason I can think of is it has coconut in it unless its a traditional Australian recipe. I didn't finish my dessert so no fruit.

I asked if I could have a dessert and soup and they said yes, maybe because there was a lot of soup left. The soup was carrot and I ate half of it but then stopped because it was too hot! I finished my soup after I ate my pasta and before my yoghurt. I didn't quite finish my pasta because it had a lot of onions in it.

I'm not going to pretend that this is necessarily scientifically reflective of the entire blog...except that someone already has done the work to see just how much the Never Seconds blog attacks the food on offer...

A 75% score rate, how very scathing, Argyll and Bute council!


headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs.

So why is this the problem of VEG, her dad, and their blog? If they fear for their jobs it is because the school or council are doing nothing to manage their expectations and to give them the right assurances. If the staff can get afraid that they'll lose their jobs off the back of a 75% enjoyment rate by a single child, doesn't that say a lot more about the probably terrifying circumstances these staff work under with clearly victorian working practices being employed by their employers?

The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons

Politically they recognised that it is impossible to tarnish the image of a 9 year old girl writing thoughtful posts on her lunches, yes...

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.

Now, does the blog purport to be a complete review of the food standards and choices at school? No, check the first post and you'll see it's clearly a fun take on reviewing what she's eating.

If Argyll and Bute had a problem with this website being taken "out of context" to any degree by the press, then they had other options here. Would VEG or her father have had any problem with including a link on the side of her blog to a full menu provided by the school/council to show the full range of options? How about empowering OTHER students to take up this kind of journalism to get a wider range of views?

No, Argyll and Bute went for the nuclear option, hence why the Streisand Effect is in full force.

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.

Which is his absolute damn right. I'm sorry Argyll and Bute, but does OTHER PEOPLE making comments you don't like based on information they gain from a 3rd party mean the third party needs shutting down?

The council here essentially admit that VEG and her dad have done *nothing* wrong, but they don't like the media response...and since the dad was unwilling to stop supplying information publicly (instead of trying to sell a story about crappy school meals in private, for example), they are now punished?

This is actually outrageous.

The media report on all kinds of things about political life, most of it negative. There is a DIRECT comparison here between what the Never Seconds blog is doing, and freedom of information requests. I'm sure Argyll and Bute would love to not give information about it's inner workings via FOI, to help stop those evil media people from doing there job of scrutinising and reporting on our power-wielding leaders, but they can't, because of the law.

So on that note, why exactly is it legal to stop someone from photographing what they're eating and talking about it?

"The council has had no complaints for the last two years about the quality of school meals other than one from the Payne family received on 6 June and there have been no changes to the service on offer since the introduction of the blog."

So despite all of this terrible media coverage purely intended to unfairly tarnish the council's good has actually made an official complaint.

All in all I think this is a very important case, the council have played their big gun cards with this statement, insinuating all kinds of evils that have come as a result of this...but they've simply skimmed over the fact that all this Never Seconds blog has done is carry out journalism. If any of these claims were made about a press agency, a paper, or official processes like the FOI process, there would be huge questions about what is going on at Argyll and Bute if they think that they can trample over basic human rights in order to keep 'bad news' from surfacing.

Watch this space...

*OK, so a girl in school isn't the press...but if she was writing this column for her local newspaper, would the council get away with such censorship?

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