Padraig Reidy: Page 3 is an example of how free speech works

Does The Sun’s Page 3 still exist? The paper’s pagination remains, humble but resolute: the very best in British pagination. As surely as curry follows beer on this sceptered isle, the nation’s favourite newspaper will have a third page, facing the second page, on the reverse of the fourth. And despite what those who would disparage our way of life would want, it will always be page three.

Briefly, this week though, it seemed the tradition (est 1970), of putting a picture of a topless young woman on page three — the “Page 3 girl” — had ended. And then it came back. What’s going on? Is there a Page 3 or isn’t there? Or are we witnessing Shroedinger’s glamour shot?

The Page 3 girl was a typical product of the British sexual revolution. What started, with the availability of contraception to women in the 1960s, as a liberation, quickly became another way to reduce them. Freed from the terror of unwanted pregnancy, women and girls were now expected to be in a permanent state of up-for-it-ness. The popular films of the late 60s and early 70s, the On The Buses, the Carry Ons, the Confessions…, portrayed British society as a parade of priapic middle-aged men, always attempting to escape their middle-aged, old-fashioned wives, in pursuit of seemingly countless, always available, young women.

It was fun, it was cheeky, it was vampiric — depending on how you wanted to look at it.

Page 3 was part of this culture; this idea that sweet-natured young women with absolutely no qualms about sex were out there, just needing a wink and a Sid James cackle to persuade them into a bit of slap and tickle. Slap and tickle, though, is not the same as sex, or at least not sex as we might hope to understand it. The slap and tickle of the British imagination owes more to the pre-pill “sort of bargaining” described by Philip Larkin. In spite of the poet’s hopes, sexual intercourse hadn’t really begun in 1963.

Page 3 models were (are? Who knows?) very rarely erotic creatures. They were “healthy” and “fun”, perhaps a little “naughty”; always girls and never women.

The phenomenon survived the attentions of feminist campaigns of varying strengths. Page 3 perhaps peaked in the 80s, when it was possible to move beyond the tabloids to become an actual star, even with clothes on (80s Page 3 icon Sam Fox is still, apparently, in demand as a singer in eastern Europe). This, ironically, coincided with an era of politically correct criticism of Page 3 led by senior Labour MP Clare Short.

In the 90s, new laddism, spearheaded by James Brown’s Loaded magazine, somewhat rehabilitated the Page 3 girl, or, more accurately, made looking at topless models seem respectable to men who would never buy the Sun (“men who should know better” as Loaded’s tagline went).

As the post-Loaded rush for young men’s money descended into boasting of nipple counts, the focus of feminist campaigning switched to the weekly Nuts and Zoo magazines. The Sun’s Page 3 carried on, outliving the rise and fall of Nuts (somehow, Zoo is still going), but is now taking a severe battering from the No More Page 3 campaign, led by young feminists. The very fact that there is uncertainty over the future of the feature is testament to that campaign’s success.

It would be easy to look for a free speech angle on this and come up with “killjoy feminists” versus, decent honest yeomen of England.

But it would be false. In truth, what we have here is an example of how free speech works. The No More Page 3 campaign, as it has pointed out, has a right to call for an end to something they don’t like. They make the argument, they are criticised, and that’s absolutely fine. No one gets hurt, no one goes to court, no one tries to pass a prohibitive law (yet).

Meanwhile, there are some half-hearted defences floating around, mostly attempting to claim that Page 3 is a PROUD BRITISH INSTITUTION, like ugly dogs or barely suppressed tears.

“Tradition!”, the defenders shout, like a legion of leery, thigh-rubbing Topols. The Daily Star, which runs pictures of topless women on its own Page 3, but has escaped the ire of campaigners for the fundamental reason that no one really cares what’s in the Daily Star, proclaimed: “Page 3 is as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pud, fish and chips and seaside postcards. The Daily Star is about fun and cheering people up. And that will definitely continue!”. But really, it all seems a bit half-hearted.

Fundamentally, this week’s wind-up aside, The Sun’s topless Page 3 will cease to exist because people don’t really want it to exist, and no one can really think of a good reason for it to exist.

It’s not censorship, or prudishness, that will eventually kill Page 3. We’ve moved on, regardless of what the editors of The Sun do or say. It’s not them; it’s us.

This article was posted on 22 January, 2015 at

Times editor apologises to NightJack blogger

The editor of the Times has admitted to the Leveson Inquiry that a reporter at his paper used email hacking to reveal the identity of anonymous police blogger, NightJack, in a 2009 story.

James Harding was discussing an incident which former Times reporter Patrick Foster had identified the blogger as Richard Horton by gaining access to anonymous email account run by Horton.

Harding, recalled to give further evidence, said he had “learnt a great deal more” about the circumstances surrounding the event since his last appearance at the Inquiry a month ago.

He revealed that he and senior management figures at the Times only became aware of the email hacking after Mr Justice Eady had begun hearing the case at the High Court — to overturn the injunction Mr Horton took to protect his identity — but before a judgment was made.

The inquiry heard that the paper’s lawyer, Alastair Brett, “tore a strip off Foster” when he learned of the email hacking, telling him that “if he wants to pursue this story he has to do it by proper journalistic endeavour”.

Emails shown to the Inquiry today reveal that Foster asked his then news editor, Martin Barrow, to “leave a little space between the dirty deed and publishing”.

In another email from Foster to the Brett, the reporter said he could build his story with publicly-available information. This, Brett replied, may be the “golden bullet”.

Harding said he took the view that the story was in the public interest, though stressed it did not warrant Foster’s unauthorised access to the email account.

“I squarely do not approve of what has happened”, he said.

“If Mr Foster had come to me and said he had done this,” Harding said, “I would have taken the disciplinary action and I would have told him to abandon the story.”

“I sorely regret the intrusion into Richard Horton’s email account by a journalist in our newsroom. On behalf of the newspaper, I apologise”, he told the Inquiry. Harding also said he has written to Mr Justice Eady to apologise that the full details surrounding the story were not disclosed to the court in 2009.

Horton, who won the Orwell prize for his blog describing a PC’s life, closed down his site and removed its content.

Email hacking constitutes a breach of the Computer Misuse Act, for which there is no public interest defence. Foster was given a written warning for professional misconduct over the incident.

Also recalled today was Sun editor Dominic Mohan, who was quizzed about his paper’s page 3 feature, which since late 1970 has printed photos of topless women.

Mohan called the feature an “innocuous British institution” that celebrates natural beauty and represents youth and freshness. He said the feature does not contain models who had had plastic surgery, and that the women photographed were healthy and “good role models”.

Last month the Inquiry heard from a selection of women’s groups who discussed the sexualisation of women in media. Anna Van Heeswijk, of pressure group Object, said page 3  existed “for the sole purpose” of women being sex objects. She also pushed for “consistent” regulation of print media, arguing that the press should abide by the taste and decency watershed that determines what can be broadcast on television before 9pm.

Mohan also refuted claims the paper was sexist, arguing that it had campaigned for a range of women’s issues, such as speaking out against domestic violence in 2003 and raising awareness of cervical cancer screening following the death of reality TV star Jade Goody in 2009.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow and will include evidence from Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer; Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust and political blogger Guido Fawkes.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson