On a slow news day last week, the Argus hit rock bottom in their campaign to cynically infantilise their readers. Out to rake a bit of muck they put in an Freedom on Information request for schools meal inspections over the past three years. The results proved the high quality and good hygiene standards in Newport Schools. Not satisfied, they nitpicked out a few isolated minor incidents, some three year's old, and ludicrously magnified their importance.
They then ran a story under a 'Horror' headline with photographs of local schools. The only horror is the self serving greed of the Argus in trashing the good work of Gwent School staff and alarming children, parents and teachers. The following two letters have been submitted. The first one was published in full on the edition of the 31st of May. No sign yet of the more substantial and detailed complaint by the Borough Council. Will the Council carry out their pomise to take the matter up with the Press Complaints Council. They should. The Argus have overstepped the mark in this case by a mile.
Letters to the Editor,
South Wales Argus,
28 May 2006
What a disgrace, Argus!
For the sake of a sensational headline you malign and insult staff at fine Newport schools and upset parents and children.
The story on school meals was a wild exaggeration. One case concerned a minor incident three years ago when the school occupied different premises. You damn schools with high standards for problems that are minor and rare. Juxtaposing your muckraking headline with pictures of local schools gave a wholly false impression.
Why always accentuate the negative? Where were your headlines of the splendid inspectors' reports that both these schools have had? Marvellous work is being done in our Newport schools and the education provided is second to none. Kitchen staff have worked conscientiously and diligently to provide good quality healthy meals. I look forward to enjoying their meals in the future as I have in the past.
This was the gutter journalism typical of the lowest of the national press. Local papers that unfairly undermine local institutions to boost circulation will lose their readers' trust. You should apologise.
South Wales Argus
Sunday, 28 May 2006
Dear Sir or Madam
SCHOOL KITCHEN - FOOD HYGIENE IN THE SOUTH WALES ARGUS
I write on behalf of Newport City Council to take great exception to the alarmist and irresponsible reporting on your front page and on page six of the South Wales Argus dated
24 May 2006, into Food Hygiene in Gwent School's kitchens.
The information, from which you choose to compile selectively your inaccurate article, was provided in a Freedom of Information Act request you made to Newport City Council's Environmental Health Food Team for copies of all food inspection reports made on Newport's Schools in the last three years.
Our Food Environmental Health Officers enforce the legal requirements of the Food Safety Act [and accompanying EU Food Regulations] in all food businesses in the City and accordingly, inspect School kitchens every twelve/eighteen months, dependant upon the score the Environmental Health Officers give to the premises using the national statutory food risk assessment scheme.
All the City's School kitchens are rated 'high' even without an Environmental Health Officer stepping over the threshold, simply by virtue of the child customer-base [especially if infants] or whether they also supply meals to other Schools.
Our Environmental Health Officers state that Newport's School kitchens have a very high level of compliance with food hygiene laws and, contrary to the misleading impression your article gives a parent, they are complementary with regard to the practices deployed by the Kitchen Management and Staff. Indeed, were the same high levels of food handling practice in place in every food business, our Environmental Health Officers say their job would be very easy.
We would never be complacent with this current high level of confidence in our School kitchens and our Environmental Health Officers will continue to inspect at the requisite twelve/eighteen month intervals and deal with any contraventions appropriately.
Your article made great play on contraventions by the kitchens but failed to put these into any proper context and in doing so, gave a misleading and damaging image of school meals at a time when much is being done to encourage children to eat a balanced meal in School rather than snack outside on fattening junk food.
Our Environmental Health Officers could visit any food business anywhere and find a contravention; the law is very involved and many of the detected contraventions are minor and warrant no formal action. However, we are obliged to give each business are report detailing any contraventions. All the contraventions found in Newport's current Schools Kitchens were minor or had arisen unexpectedly and rectification was underway at the time of the visit. They were primarily concerned with repairs/maintenance and the Catering Managers were asked to sort/repaint in an appropriate timescale. None of the contraventions was deemed to be of a type that required any formal action by the Officers.
You referred to cobwebs, grease etc being found at St Joseph's High School. In fact, those were the findings of a report three years ago of the old St Joseph's High School. An inspection of the new St Joseph's High School was carried out in January 2005 where no contraventions of food hygiene regulations were found. You have unfairly and inaccurately criticised on your front page a School with an unblemished record.
We are very disappointed that you have chosen to publish such an unbalanced, inaccurate and distorted article. The Schools so mentioned have been inundated with calls from concerned parents who, on the strength of your report, now fear their children are in imminent danger of food poisoning and are querying whether they should continue to let their children have school meals. Hard working diligent Kitchen Staff have been demoralised by the completely underserved criticism, having to suffer comments today from disgruntled parents, with the nett result being a reduction in take up of healthy options.
In summary, what you have done is taken the reports out of context and sensationised them notwithstanding that the Council's Press Office issued a 'press release' to put the information, which we had supplied to you, in context with food businesses as a whole and in addition you have attributed a report concerning previous kitchens at St Joseph's High School with the current kitchens a situation which is manifestly incorrect and unjust.
In actual fact our Food Officer's professional opinion is that we have a good level of hygiene in our School Kitchens and none of the contraventions referred to in the reports you obtained under the Freedom of Information Act needed immediate remedial action by Managers nor formal action other than the old St Joseph's High School which had a few cobwebs etc and the situation was dealt with immediately.
Unless you assure me that you will retract your statements, and give equal prominence to your retraction as that originally given in your article, I will have no other option but to complain to the Press Council.
Head of Public Protection and Environmental Services