As much a part of the saucier side of British
20th-century life as cheeky seaside postcards and
innuendo-loaded comedies, the topless models in Britain's
best-selling daily paper might soon be no more.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose Sun has featured a large
picture of a bare-breasted model on page three since 1970,
has indicated that it may be time for a change in tack.
In response to a tweet saying: "Seriously, we are all so over
page 3 - it is so last century!", the 81-year-old Australian
replied: "You maybe right, don't know but considering.
Perhaps halfway house with glamorous fashionistas."
The exchange coincided with the latest in what have been
perennial campaigns against Page 3, this time spurred in part
by a public sense that the mass-circulation press, tainted by
scandal, is too powerful and should be reined in.
The "No More Page Three" campaign sent an open letter signed
by more than 50 members of parliament to Dominic Mohan,
editor of the Sun, which is part of News Corp's British
newspaper division News International.
"We want to live in a society where the most widely-read
newspaper is one that respects women," read the letter,
posted on the campaign's website.
"Instead, the Sun publishes Page 3, which reduces women to
objects. It reduces men to objectifiers. And it reduces this
country to one that upholds 1970s sexist values. We're better
During the Leveson inquiry into press standards last year,
prompted by a phone-hacking scandal that forced the closure
of the Sun's sister Sunday paper, the News of the World,
Mohan said the photos "celebrate natural beauty".
"We're allowed to publish those images, and I think it's
become quite an innocuous British institution where, as a
parent myself, I'm more concerned about images that my
children might come across on the Internet or on digital
devices," he said.
But not all News International insiders agree. Former
executive chairman Les Hinton, who resigned as head of Dow
Jones during the phone hacking scandal, tweeted in response
to Murdoch that "Page 3 has jarred for ages."
Murdoch bought the Sun in 1969 and rapidly turned it into an
irreverent, muck-raking tabloid, introducing topless models
within a year.
Initially featuring coy side-shots, the Page 3 photos later
became more explicit, leaving little to the imagination. The
picture is usually accompanied by a short text, quoting the
model's improbable take on one of the issues of the day,
often related to something the paper has been campaigning
A stint on Page 3 launched the careers of Samantha Fox, who
went on to become a pop singer in the 1980s, and Katie Price,
who as "Jordan" was known for her surgically enhanced bust
and an infamous appearance on a reality TV show, and is now
the name behind a number of books and perfumes.
Though the liberal intelligentsia loved to hate it, the Sun
was embraced by the public and its sales rose. In common with
other newspapers, it is losing readers, but it is still
Britain's best-selling paper, shifting around 2.4 million
copies a day in January.
Media commentators noted it was not the first time the Sun
had mooted dropping Page 3.
"Murdoch is aware that, should he dare to follow his
anti-Page 3 instincts, he may jeopardise the Sun's
circulation," former Sun assistant editor Roy Greenslade
wrote on the Guardian's website.
"He is ... caught between his desire to 'do the right thing'
and commercial reality."
Monday's Sun featured 21-year-old Mellisa from Kent,
appearing to emerge from the sea wearing only bikini bottoms.
"Mellisa is furious that foreign aid money is being
squandered on fat cat consultants," the accompanying text
reads, before going on to quote the 19th-century religious
writer Charles Caleb Colton.
The idea of printing pictures of semi-naked women to boost
circulation was copied by other British mass-circulation
papers as well as newspapers in other countries, although
many have since stopped the practice.
Germany's top-selling Bild removed topless women from its
front page last year - only for them to reappear on Page 3.
Women's groups have criticised the Sun's pictures as
degrading since they were introduced, but are regularly
vilified by the paper as dour and bitter.
Former minister Clare Short, who has campaigned against Page
3 since 1986, was described as "fat" and "jealous", a move
that Mohan admitted during the Leveson inquiry was not
"It's not probably something I would run now," he said.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)