June 18, 2012
Muscat Daily yesterday covered the story of a nine year old Scottish schoolgirl, who thought that her school dinners would make an interesting subject for others, so decided to write about them on her blog ‘NeverSeconds’.
Martha Payne photographed the food and rated it for quality. Her local council banned her from taking pictures of the meals because it was concerned that Martha was misrepresenting the menu options which were on offer, and also that it was upsetting the catering staff who were becoming worried about their jobs.
Millions of people then used the influence of Twitter to support Martha, and children from around the world sent pictures of meals from their schools as comparisons. The local council leader finally decided to withdraw the ban. The NeverSeconds site tells some of this story and has posted a comment that it will be back on-stream with photos from today.
One of the most extraordinary things about this story is that Martha actually wrote many very complimentary comments about her school meals, some even received marks of 10/10, and the blog is well presented and factual. David Payne, Martha’s father, has described the ban as an ‘own goal’. It certainly appears to me that the local council involved need to get some help with their public relations activities.
The other amazing aspect is that her blog has now raised over RO30,000 for a kitchen shelter charity in Malawi. A Mary’s Meals spokesman said, “We are extremely grateful for everything she has done to help us reach some of the hungriest children in the world. It means that enough money has now been raised to build a brand new kitchen shelter and feed all 1,963 pupils there for a whole year.”
The power of Twitter, with around 140mn tweeters now around the world, is immense. Celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Nick Nairn had supported Martha’s blog, and with their domestic and international followers, news reached all parts of the globe in minutes. Couple Twitter and Facebook, and the realisation is that nothing can be kept quiet for long.
I have followed the news from and about our part of the world since I arrived in 2006. I have been on Twitter (@nicksmith21c) and Facebook now for a couple of years, and enjoy the ability that particularly Twitter gives me to get breaking news as it happens. Individual blog sites also complement more formal media publications like Muscat Daily.
I have seen reports that there have been a number of arrests in Oman of people using the social media to voice their opinions. Whilst no one in this country wants to see unsuitable or inappropriate comments on such sites, or information being distributed which could harm national security, there is a balance to be struck. Change is taking place here, and in many circumstances people voicing responsible opinions can be healthy – just look at Martha’s story above. Freedom of speech and written comment, within the bounds of human decency and respect, are two of the most fundamental attributes of a civilised world.
I hope that the proper, well thought out and valuable views of citizens in our society can be heard, to help to take Oman forward in the years to come.
Nick lives and works in Muscat and the views expressed in this column are entirely his own. You can e-mail Nick at email@example.com