THE BLOG

Why Won't The Sun Scrap Page 3?

23/01/2015 11:25 GMT | Updated 24/03/2015 09:59 GMT

British tabloid newspaper, The Sun, has been mocking critics this week who assumed that Page 3 had been retired because it did not appear for a few days. If you are not familiar with The Sun's Page 3 then it can be quickly summarised as a large photo of a young, attractive, topless glamour model. Captions on the Page 3 photographs often feature a quote about a recent news story that is attributed to the model.

The Sun has featured these glamour photographs for over 40 years now, commencing publication in 1970 when The Sun was still only a few years old. The title was losing money and had recently been purchased by Rupert Murdoch who was eager to cause a splash in the British media market. Murdoch caused more than just a splash - The Sun has long been the most widely circulated newspaper in the UK, only recently losing the number one spot to The Daily Mail.

Campaigners have tried for years to get The Sun to scrap Page 3. Some take a strongly feminist view that printing images of naked women in a newspaper is offensive to women - why should a national newspaper be objectifying women? Some take a more pragmatic family-oriented approach, taking offence at sexualised images of naked women in a family newspaper that is freely available in any store that sells papers and magazines.

Regardless of how you politicise the debate over objectification what is obvious to most people is that Page 3 has served a purpose in popularising The Sun in the 70s and 80s, but is now of another time. It's difficult to understand how a newspaper that proclaims itself to be a champion of family values can be printing nude teenagers on Page 3 in 2015.

Rupert Murdoch has tweeted - almost two years ago - that perhaps it is time for Page 3 to be retired. He suggested it might be replaced by a new format that features photographs of "glamorous fashionistas."

To see Murdoch himself wondering about the future of Page 3 gave campaigners a shot in the arm. In the past couple of years there has been an almost non-stop onslaught on Page 3 featuring campaigners, celebrities, and politicians.

I think this campaigning has shifted the general opinion on Page 3, but why does editor David Dinsmore keep publishing the photographs and openly mock those who are calling for an end to it? The Sun communications team spent much of today tweeting nude images to rival journalists and campaigners.

They don't listen to the campaigners because they don't need to. What they are doing remains legal. The models are all 18 or over - although they used to be even younger back in the days when pop stars chased children for sex. The bottom line is that this is all about business. Forget about the campaigning by people who probably don't read The Sun. What are the two things that would cause an immediate change in editorial strategy?

1. Readers start deserting the paper and citing Page 3 as a reason why they are no longer prepared to keep reading it.

2. Advertisers start taking their budget elsewhere and suggesting that they no longer want to be associated with The Sun because of Page 3.

Neither of these appears to be happening any more than might be expected in a fast-moving media environment. There certainly does not appear to be any catastrophic loss of readers or advertisers specifically because of Page 3. It appears that the readers and advertisers are quite happy with the status quo thank you very much.

To influence millions of readers would be an enormous challenge, but if the campaigners turn their sights on the major brands advertising in The Sun and through their actions cause big accounts to take their spending elsewhere then the editor would have to sit up and pay attention. Most readers enjoy The Sun for more than just the model on Page 3 so it would be hard to create an exodus of readers, but without the advertisers on board, all those models would soon be seeking work elsewhere.

Until this happens, the editor can sit in a hot tub with the Page 3 beauties laughing as he watches the page hits on Page3.com soar because every other media outlet is driving new readers to his newspaper.

Who knows, he might even print a freedom of speech article later this week claiming that The Sun has been oppressed by those who want to stop the newspaper printing legal images. Stranger things have happened in the British tabloids.