Might Rupert Murdoch finally ditch The Sun's Page 3 Girl?
After generations of women have argued fruitlessly for its removal, media mogul hints at change of heart
SO, RUPERT MURDOCH has hinted in a seemingly casual response to a fellow Twitter user that it might be time for The Sun to abandon the Page Three Girl, 42 years after she bounced into British popular culture and lowered the tone of tabloid publishing in one double-D swoop.
Murdoch was responding to a tweet by 'Kazipooh' who described the Page Three phenomenon as "so last century". Rupe commented: "page three so last century! You maybe right, don't know but considering. Perhaps halfway house with glamorous fashionistas".
If this is a change of heart, then it will delight generations of women who have argued for its demise ever since editor Larry Lamb introduced the daily topless photo in 1970.
Most famous among the campaigners was the Labour MP Clare Short, who dared to raise the issue in the Commons in 1986. Short received an avalanche of support from British women – and a vile article in The Sun which branded her "fat, jealous Clare".
Last year, actress Lucy Anne Holmes started a 'No More Page Three' campaign after picking up a copy of The Sun during the London Games and realising that even Jessica Ennis, in all her Olympian glory, could not push the topless babes into the shadows.
Holmes's petition attracted tens of thousands of sympathisers but – until now, perhaps – no response from The Sun or its owner.
Fascinating to students of Murdochology is the tone of his Twitter posting. It makes it quite clear that it will be his decision as to whether Page Three stays or goes - he didn't tweet: "Interesting, why don't you tell Dominic Mohan [the paper's current editor]."
This is, of course, quite at odds with the image he sought to project when he appeared before MPs in 2011 for a grilling over the behaviour of his editors and journalists in the News of the World hacking scandal. He gave the impression that he was far too busy with the machinations of his worldwide media empire to have time for the day-to-day running of his London newspapers.
The fact is, his editors would not dream of ditching Page Three without his say-so. When Rebekah Wade (later Brooks) became the paper's first female editor in 2003, there were hopes that she would drop the feature. Not a bit of it. Campaigners quickly realised that, like Maggie Thatcher before her, Rebekah might be a woman but she was never a sister.
As for the incumbent, Mohan told the Leveson Inquiry that the "fat and jealous" attack on Clare Short was "not probably something I would run now". But when he was called back to discuss his paper's attitude to women following an approach to Leveson from a coalition of women's groups, Mohan said Page Three was an "innocent" staple of British life and that the daily photos simply celebrated "natural beauty".
Perhaps Murdoch is reflecting on the issue in the wake of his mother Elisabeth's death in December? The reason most media watchers gave for none of his Australian papers ever carrying topless pictures was that Dame Elisabeth would never countenance anything so tasteless.