Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Page 3 Debate

Ever since I can remember, page 3 of the Sun has been something that we do not speak about. It was a big no-no at school, and a big no-no at home – and I barely even knew what it was until, when I was about nine, my mind was ‘polluted’ as I flicked through the newspaper and saw – to my horror – naked women. And to think that this was being seen in a national newspaper, daily, by women and children alike disgusts me. I am not a fan of ‘page 3’ (two words that bring a sense of tension across the dinner table in my family). I think it is an out-dated, inappropriate custom. And yes, I agree it should be stopped. As my mother has told me, when she was a young girl she came across Page 3 at work and it caused her considerable discomfort, especially when men were looking at it in her presence.

The Sun, which was first printed in 1964, is a national tabloid newspaper that has average daily circulation of 2,409,811 copies. And in 1970, the Sun had its first model standing nude on one of its pages, thus turning the Sun into what is known as a ‘Lad’s Mag’. Although there has always been controversy over page 3, it has recently become a topical issue, and the campaign and petition attracted some real attention when Rupert Murdoch said on twitter that he was considering scrapping it altogether. However, the editor of the paper, Dominic Mohan, does not share the same views whatsoever: "I think it's meant to represent a youth and freshness and it celebrates natural beauty… I think it's become quite an innocuous British institution." ‘An innocuous British institution’ – I bloody well hope not. And to think I was proud to be British…

The campaign, famously called No More Page Three, is not the first attempt to challenge Page 3… In 1986 Clare Short MP put a bill forward in The House of Commons for Page 3 to be banned, saying that it is a ‘phenomenon in Britain’s press’. She received huge amounts of ridicule from the public saying she was ‘jealous’ and indeed many MP’s at the time sneered at her in the House of Commons, making rude remarks about her body. I think everybody is agreed that Clare Short intended that Page 3 be banned and, given the enduring right of freedom of the press, the bill never became law.

But is the No More Page Three petition also calling for a ban? Many people argue that it is an extreme call for censorship of the press – but what happened to Freedom of Speech? The idea that a newspaper should be stopped from printing something by the government recalls the image of a, quoting Sylvia Plath, ‘man with a Mein Kampf look.’ But in reality I think the petition is calling for Mohan and Murdoch to reconsider the whole idea of Page 3, in the hope that they will realize how unbelievably outdated it really is. The campaigners are not trying to ban it, but only suggest to Mohan to ‘take the bare boobs out of the Sun’ (although it is said rather imperatively).

So why don’t we just have a boycott of the Sun? Well that’s already been tried – and it didn’t work. The paper still circulated nationwide, and there is a reason for this. The reason is that nobody (or very few people indeed) who has signed the petition actually reads the Sun. Yes they may know people who read it, or their husbands may read it, but I think very few Sun-readers have signed the petition, and this is because they have no problem with it. If they did have a problem with it, they wouldn’t buy it and they wouldn’t read it. That is one of the reasons why many people argue that this petition is flawed. Perhaps it is trying to take something the Sun-readers like away from them? If they want to get rid of it, then they should simply stop buying it.

However, many others argue that the Sun would get more sales if they took Page 3 out, and that a lot of people have stopped buying the Sun because of Page 3. If so, one of the arguments for the petition is that it supports all those who would like to read the Sun if it weren’t for those nude women.

An argument that I have heard on a number of occasions is that it is a good thing. Having naked women in a national newspaper is good! It creates jobs, it increases national well-being… You must be joking. These girls, even if they do like being seen naked by men all over the country (which I doubt), can get naked in Nuts or Zoo. A national newspaper is not the place for it. And some claim that men like having naked women in their paper – well if you want to see it so much, buy Nuts!

I am only fifteen, and have not been following the debate religiously, but these are my views. I do not claim to have the answer, and I definitely don’t know everything about what is going on, so please don’t take offence. I think that the Sun Page 3 should be withdrawn, however I think it is up to the readers of the Sun to make that decision, by telling what they think to Murdoch. I do not think it is right for people who don’t read the Sun to take something away from people that do, when it has a lot less effect on them than it does on the readership. I think the public should try and avoid the Sun if they do not like what it says. I hate page 3 as much as anybody, but I think that it’s not my place to make demands.


  1. Tom,

    This is a brilliant and thoughtful article.

    You got me thinking in the last paragraph about whether it should be the decision of Sun readers to take away page 3 and not people who don't read the paper themselves.

    That's a tricky one. I suppose we could argue that it's nothing more than pornography and that we have a right not to be exposed to it or have our children exposed to it... Sooner or later all children do see these images, don't they? Freedom of expression v freedom from offence is the issue, as it so often is...

    This would be a great topic for an English class debate, which I expect you've started having to do now in school.

    Anyway, it's a great piece of writing and we're very impressed.

    Trixe & Tim x

    1. The picture is bigger than "freedom from offence" - the whole issue is that it IS now a British institution, and that has a ripple effect on how women get treated generally in this country. Most people find Jehovah's Witnesses offensive, but there aren't huge petitions against them because they don't have a daily slot in a national (and explicitly family-oriented when they're giving away free Lego or whatever) newspaper.

      It's nothing to do with "freedom of expression" - as he points out above, there are plenty of other places to "express" your tits out, and to invoke that concept about Page 3 is an insult to all the people around the world REALLY fighting for that freedom (eg under dictatorships where dissent can be fatal).

      Nor does the readership argument hold that much water, because it has no bearing on whether something's right or wrong; just because there's a demand doesn't mean the world owes a supply, particularly through such an inappropriate medium.

  2. Hi Tom, what a great writer you are. You put forward some really valid points but I do have to argue with your last one. The reason people, like me, who don't read The Sun, have a right to speak out against it is it affects people like me. I'm the one who as a teenager had boys shouting "show us yer tits" in a woodwork class because the teacher had covered the desk in the newspaper, forgetting to take out Page 3, your mum, not a Sun reader, was the one made to feel uncomfortable at work because of other people reading this newspaper. I agree that I have little right to speak against something if it does not affect or cause harm to me or anyone not involved in what they are doing or reading but the whole point of non-Sun readers calling to get rid of Page 3 is that it does affect us. Best wishes, Dr Eleanor Roberts.

  3. Hi Tom,

    I really enjoyed reading you're article, there were some interesting and original arguments.

    But in relation to the last paragraph, I would also like to argue that everyone is affected by page 3 because (amongst other reasons) it has an effect on how people see women. This reinforcement of female stereotyping has a rippling effect. If some people are exposed to a naked woman in a newspaper then it is normalised and promotes sexism in other places.

    But please don't take offence, I just like having a debate! I'm glad that this was brought up because I think it's a really relevant part of the situation which needs further discussion.

    With best wishes,

  4. Hi Tom,

    Just want to say I think this is a brilliant article, you've raised some really important points that need to be considered and discussed and not just brushed under the carpet as they have been for the last few decades by so many people!

    I agree with Rosie (above) about the last paragraph, and just want to put across two of my own thoughts on the matter. I feel that what you said about the awfulness of page 3 being an 'innocuous British institution' is important to consider when thinking about who has a right to vote for or against The Sun. If this is a 'British' thing, then I think British people are entitled to vote for whether this is what we really want to represent us as a nation.

    I also completely agree with Rosie that page 3 does not only affect its readers, but society as a whole and its views and treatment of women. So, I think it should be down to society to decide what they want to do with page 3, never mind whether the read it or not because, as you said before, a lot of people who do not read it is down to the existence of that god-awful image when they turn the front page! And I think those people have a right to vote on the matter just as much as anyone else.

    That was all but I completely agree with your main points, and I think you've written a very respectful and honest article, particularly as you have considered various sides of the debate!

    Thanks for the read,

  5. Dear all,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog and taking the time to comment and share your views! Rosie and Catherine raise a good point that if this is a British thing, then it should be up to the public. I agree with what you say, and I also agree that it does effect others (rather than just the Sun readership), but as I have said in my article, I think it effects the readership more! And I agree that it greatly effects the way that British women are viewed in this country - the main reason why I am against the whole idea of it. I tried to factor all my views in, and I am still undecided as to what I 100% think!

    Thanks again for the positive feedback and for reading! Feel free to share this or follow my blog!

    1. How does it effect the readership more? I just don't think the problem is about "these poor Sun readers, people threatening their right to see a naked woman on page 3 of the Sun" - but what about these poor women who are being exploited or stereotyped as a result of sexism? I am not just referring to the women on page 3, many people underestimate how damaging stereotyping is and the devastating effects it has.

      Don't you think that the readers of the Sun will be OK to look elsewhere if they need to see a naked woman? Is sexism not more of a serious matter?

  6. Tom,

    Its amazing not only to have a young persons point of view on the subject but the fact you are male to gives me hope, that there are still plenty of inspirational people out there!


  7. Thank you very much for your kind words - it is a topic both me and my family care very much about! Please follow my blog if you want to hear more of my views on different topics!