MPs across the political spectrum on Tuesday welcomed the Sun’s decision to no longer run images of topless models on Page 3 of the newspaper.
The education secretary, Nicky Morgan, who also holds the women and equalities brief, said the move was long overdue and marked “a small but significant step towards improving media portrayal of women and girls. I very much hope it remains permanent”.
The Sun still refused to confirm the move on Tuesday with a spokesman saying “is all just speculation, it is all wild speculation”. But the group’s sister title, the Times, said last Friday’s edition would be the last to carry pictures of a topless model.
The Labour MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, said the campaign to scrap Page 3 had opened up a discussion about the damage to society of objectifying women by featuring semi-naked women so prominently in a national paper.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday: “It wasn’t about Page 3 being offensive but about the impact on our society of judging men and women by different standards, and basically saying that we didn’t need boobs with our breakfast tables. The objectification of women in this way was basically saying to all of us what matters frankly were our breasts not our brains.”
The move was also supported by Lib Dem women’s and equalities minister Jo Swinson, although she criticised the alternative content in Tuesday’s edition, two Hollyoaks actors in bikinis on a beach. There were replaced by a tribute to the late Coronation Street actor Anne Kirkbride in later editions.
“I am delighted that the old fashioned sexism of Page 3 could soon be a thing of the past,” Swinson said. “I welcome this apparent step forward from the Sun, but I would encourage its editors to consider whether parading women in bikinis is really a modern reflection of the contribution women make to society”.
Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman told LBC the move means the Sun is “moving into the 21st century” while the Girlguiding UK’s Advocates panel said Page 3 is “disrespectful and embarrassing” and that they are “thrilled” it is being dropped.
Caroline Criado-Perez, who campaigned for a woman to appear on a banknote, told the Huffington Post: “This has never been about nudity. Feminists are not scared of breasts. The issue is one of how we perceive women – what we believe they are capable of. Featuring a topless woman on Page 3 of a newspaper populated by images of powerful – and fully-dressed – men perpetuates the idea that men do things and women have things done to them.”
Industry experts said Page 3 had deterred global brands from advertising in the paper, and dropping it could lead to a boost in revenues.
Disney and Apple are among advertisers which had a policy of not buying display advertising in the Sun, with Page 3 being the main issue of contention.
Other companies said to largely avoid advertising in the Sun for brand perception reasons include John Lewis, Waitrose, and the French cosmetics group L’Oréal.
“With some brands there is not just a single reason for not advertising in the Sun, it is about the whole tabloid issue per se,” said one senior media industry executive. “But for some, the scrapping of Page 3 represents the removal of a major barrier to entry. Conversations that wouldn’t, or couldn’t, happen before might become possible.”
But the Daily Star issued a statement saying it would continue printing pictures of semi-naked women. “Page 3 is as British as roast beef and yorkshire pud, fish and chips and seaside postcards”.
Last year the Sun made about £112m in display advertising across its Monday to Friday editions, which carried Page 3 models, according to unofficial industry figures.
Pundits say it is difficult to estimate exactly how great the opportunity is to bring in anti-Page 3 advertisers but that over time, it could be worth a great deal.
“If you can convert a new major advertiser, each relationship will usually eventually turn into millions of pounds a year,” said one senior press advertising space buyer at a top UK media agency.
Apple may be the toughest to convert; the company has a longstanding policy of not advertising in not just the Sun, but also its red-top rivals as well as the mid-market Daily Mail and Daily Express, for brand positioning reasons.
Disney has also eschewed running display advertising in the Sun for many years, although the company does occasionally run promotions relating to its films, which include blockbusters such as Frozen.
It is understood that Disney and the Sun fell out recently about a “number of instances” of “poor execution” of promotions, a separate issue to any concerns about Page 3.
A spokesman for Disney said the company does not have an official policy or “list” of media owners it does not run advertising in. But several senior media industry figures said Disney had an unwritten rule preventing advertising in publications such as the Sun and the Daily Star.
“When it comes to where we advertise, broadcast our shows, how we do promotions or license our products, Disney always considers the association with our brand,” said a spokesman for the Walt Disney Company.
The Sun’s move could put advertising from L’Oréal and John Lewis, which advertises in News UK stablemates the Times and Sunday Times, back on the table.
“Some clients when briefing us have kind of under-the-radar reduced spend or give another reason for not wanting to run very much advertising in a title like, say, the Sun,” said a second senior press buyer at a leading media agency.
“The client won’t spell it out officially, but it is not difficult to see who spends less than who when they probably shouldn’t be. For some advertisers,Page 3 was a big reason not to spend, that reason has now been taken away.”
Daniel Booth, senior investment manager at Havas Media Group, said the move away from topless models on Page 3 was part of a modern repositioning of the Sun brand.
“The Sun has slowly been rebranding itself since the controversy and closure of News of the World,” he said. “They have been repositioning it and this is the latest stage of that re-invention. Advertisers may not come into the fold overnight, but this proves their dedication to change and shows they are a brand now more relevant to the time we live in.”
Rob Lynam, head of trading at media buying agency MEC, is less convinced that the removal of nude models will be an advertising cash cow for the Sun.
“I don’t think it will make a huge amount of difference,” he said. “There are other reasons why advertisers stay away, objections, not just the existence of Page 3. It can be the overall editorial environment of a tabloids.”
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