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.

Photo: Getty
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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.