Good riddance to News in Briefs, the nastiest part of Page 3

The Sun has ditched its "joke" that attractive, topless women can't possibly have opinions on politics.

Only 20 per cent of the Sun’s bylines go to women and as of yesterday, there’s one fewer column inch staked out for female voices: let us bow our boobs and solemnly remove our tops in honour of page 3’s News in Briefs, which is no more.

Still, don’t let your chest be depressed for too long. This would be a much harder loss for women’s journalism if the Page 3 girls had actually written the News that appeared by their Briefs – but obviously and insultingly, they didn’t.

The naughty nibs started in 2003, when Rebekah Brooks took over as editor of the Sun. Before her ascension, she was reportedly an opponent of Page 3, so maybe the introduction of a jaunty speech bubble containing a short commentary on current affairs was a way of patching over Page 3’s incongruity.

At the beginning, News in Briefs was just a naked echo of the paper’s editorial line. Ruth “hailed yesterday’s court appearance by Saddam Hussein”. Kate “was devastated to hear David Blunkett had quit”.

 

 

 

There’s a theory in anti-pornography circles that violent imagery in erotica is especially concerning because men are most suggestible when tumescent. If there’s any truth in that (and it certainly hasn’t been proven), News in Briefs is a spectacularly cynical example of propaganda, leading millions of man to wank themselves into an orgiastic condition of right-wingery.

But really that’s not the problem with News in Briefs, which for my money has long been the nastiest part of Page 3. The comic disjunct of this section has always been in the assumed unlikeliness of a pretty, smiling, topless woman expressing the opinion attributed to her. The kind of girl who can get a man hard, says the logic of this joke, is the kind of girl who’s soft in the head.

Over time, that joke was cultivated to baroque standards. Over her various appearances in 2010, Peta (23 from Essex) volunteered informed opinions about the price of gold, myoglobin, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Theodore de Banville.

 

 

The fact that these weren’t really Peta’s opinions doesn’t mean she’s stupid. There are some requirements for a Page 3 girl – most importantly, being under 25 and having big, unaugmented breasts. It isn’t necessary to be dumb.

But redtop journalists are notoriously more educated than the audience they write for, or in this case, the individual they were writing as. There’s something distinctly distasteful about using that advantage to make a sneering joke at a nude woman’s expense.

 

 

It’s a joke that plenty of people enjoyed, though, including the well-educated men of the Conservative party. According to Paul Waugh of Politics Home, when the Tory “Breakfast Club” met each morning, the newest member would be called on to read each day’s News in Briefs, in (oh my lol-wracked sides) the voice of the Page 3 girl.

On Monday, our democratic representatives could have enjoyed ventriloquising Kelly’s ventriloquised thoughts on Andy Murray’s Wimbledon chances: “As Muhammad Ali observed, ‘Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach into the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win.’”

But on Tuesday, there was nothing but space next to Lacey, and on page3.com today, India from Reading sits beside an unpopulated box where the News in Briefs would once have been. The joke is up.

That doesn’t mean page 3 is on the way out. The new editor, David Dinsmore, confirmed this morning on LBC that hanging on to the girls in defiance of campaigners is a point of pride for the Sun, and if Brooks didn’t have the will to axe them, it’s hard to imagine an editor who will.

But the end of News in Briefs is reason for a tiny feminist cheer on its own. The Sun still gives more room to docile-looking girls with nice racks than to grown-up women with something to say, but it’s no longer snickering at the very idea of something smart emerging from a pretty mouth. 

 

With thanks to Tim Ireland for the scans of historic Page 3 girls.

The final Page 3 News in Briefs.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.