Is this the beginning of the end of the Page Three girl?

Feb 3, 2012
Nigel Horne

As The Sun's editor is recalled by Leveson, women's groups hope this could be a watershed moment

COULD the Page Three girl soon be history? The question arises because the editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan, is to be recalled by the Leveson Inquiry next week, with The Guardian reporting that he is to be asked about the tabloid's long-standing tradition of publishing a daily photo of a topless model.

The news has delighted women's groups who hope that Lord Justice Leveson will take the opportunity of the inquiry to recommend a ban on "sexualised images" of a kind that would never be allowed on television before the watershed, but are prevalent at the family breakfast table. (With more than 7.5m readers, The Sun is by far the most popular British paper.)

Suvi Ramu of the lobby group Object, which campaigns against the objectification of women, said that it was a watershed moment.

"None of the editors who use these images have ever been questioned or challenged at this type of level before," Ramu said. "For this to happen at the Leveson inquiry is groundbreaking."

This is not the first time women have campaigned to stop Page Three since the tradition began in November 1970, a year after Rupert Murdoch bought the then foundering broadsheet and relaunched it as a racy tabloid.

The former Labour Cabinet minister Clare Short famously tried and failed in 1986 to introduce a private member's bill banning the photos. She welcomed the news of Dominic Mohan's recall, saying it suggested Leveson had not "dismissed the idea of making recommendations".

Short added: "If this is the case it is very good news. Since 1986 the standards of society have moved on, now the question is: can the press catch up?"

Short makes a good point. Standards have changed and there are those who argue that many men would be just as happy as women readers to see the feature dropped. The photos no longer have the 'Phwooaaar' factor they had in the early days, when girls like Samantha Fox and Linda Lusardi made their names on Page Three.

And while men still make up the vast proportion of readers, it is the extensive sports coverage and the paper's punchy news and editorial attitudes that attracts them as much as the semi-naked girls.

Who knows, perhaps in the age of Leveson, with the tabloid's proprietor no longer invincible, it will take a male editor to drop it?

The last time Clare Short argued publicly – in January 2004 – for the "degrading pornography" to be outlawed the paper responded by calling Short a "killjoy" and claiming she was "fat and jealous" of the topless models. The article concluded: "If Ms Short ran our world it would be time to move to Mars."

And who was the editor then? Rebekkah Wade.

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