A few weeks before Christmas I took my car to a branch of a major windscreen repair company as there were a couple of chips in the windscreen that needed fixing. In the waiting room, there was copy of the local free newspaper, which I read in about five minutes, and The Sun, which I picked up to skim through, to while away what seemed like an excessively long time for a bloke in dungarees to do whatever they do with chipped windscreens.
I read the front page of The Sun, and then immediately flicked to pages four and five. I deliberately avoided Page 3. Why did I do that?
Vic Giles was the art director for The Sun newspaper in the 1970s. This week, in a letter to The Guardian, Mr Giles recalled that he suggested The Sun should run photos of women, naked from the waist up, on page three of the newspaper. The editor, Larry Lamb, was against it; Rupert Murdoch, sitting in the editor’s chair, said, “I like it. Let’s print it.”
The following day, Murdoch stopped by to tell Vic Giles that he should, “Keep that Page 3 style going, for ever.”
Giles says that by the end of the week The Sun’s circulation figures were “rising at a fantastic rate.”
Forgive me if you know this already, but I’m a man. There will be some who will feel that as a result of my maleness I am in no position to comment on News Corps’ policy of printing pictures of semi-naked young women, and the impact that it has on us all. I understand that (there’s a ‘but’ coming) but as there is an aspect of this whole business that has been troubling me, I’m going to pile in.
Firstly, though, on a banal level – that of branding and marketing – it’s hard to make sense of what The Sun has been playing at this week. Its sister publication, The Times, ran a brief story stating that The Sun was no longer to publish these photographs of half-clad women. The Times (surely) wouldn’t have run with that story without some sort of tip off from their Sun colleagues? Additionally, it tied in with vague comments made by Rupert Murdoch on Twitter over the last year in which he has alluded to a view that the Page 3 model is increasingly old-fashioned. The word in media circles is that David Dinsmore, the editor of The Sun shares that view.
So why, earlier this week, did Rupert Murdoch first allow the notion that Page 3 was to be abandoned hurtle along like a turbo-charged runaway train, only for the paper to roll from the presses on Thursday with the bosom of Nicole from Bournemouth in full view?
If it was a form of viral marketing, it was ill-judged. If it was a mistake then it was a silly one and very unlike the tightly controlled Murdoch way on such matters.
The Sun is in a bind on this whole business of Page 3 models, and I use the word ‘business’ deliberately as the Murdoch ethos is to make a profit and whilst they’re at it to make the most monstrous profit that it is ever possible to squeeze out of any venture.
Around 2008, The Sun was selling over three million copies each day; in 2014 the sales dropped to just over two million copies per day – still a huge number of papers sold, well ahead of any rival publication, but also a significant drop in a relatively short time span.
Murdoch and his people know that a sizeable number of those two million daily purchasers will turn to Page 3 with a smile and linger as they ‘admire’ the photograph of the disrobed woman.
They also know that thousands and thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of potential readers (and in their view, especially women) do not buy The Sun for that very same reason. Hence the dilemma faced by the paper’s executives tucked away behind the dreary glass boxes of their headquarters at Thomas More Square, at St Katherine Docks.
Of course, some may say, “Who cares? There are far more important issues in the world.”
Maybe there are, but that doesn’t mean this issue will go away.
I think I avoided Page 3 of The Sun, while I was at the windscreen repair place, for two reasons.
Firstly, I would have felt very embarrassed if anyone else in the waiting area had seen me looking at the undraped model. Particularly so if a woman glanced over at me at the precise moment my gaze fell on that page.
Secondly, and more importantly, Page 3 of The Sun makes me squirm. It isn’t quite so much the undressed nature of the featured woman, but the passiveness of the pose. The women who are shown on Page 3 are yielding and acquiescent. There is nothing sensual in their appearance or manner. They are docile mannequins that do not pose any sort of threat to the men who dawdle on the page to study the size, shape, and form of the woman’s breasts.
Their posture is submissive and compliant.
This troubles me. If The Sun made another volte-face and decided to run with bikini-clad women on Page 3, from tomorrow, it wouldn’t solve the danger inherent in these portrayals.
These depictions, clothed or otherwise, contribute to the thought processes of new generations of boys and men who believe that women are there for their needs only. That women are available. That women can be picked up off the street (“Hey – she’d been drinking! She brought it on herself!”) by footballers and taken to cheap hotels and used, whether the woman agrees, or not.
I have no idea if Mr Murdoch thinks about such things, or not. I’m a man, and I think about these matters, so maybe Mr Murdoch should think about it too.
Terence Dackombe – January 2015