What Ed could learn from campaign to fold Page Three
By applying concerted effort to a localised issue, a grassroots movement has achieved the kind of change that politicians regularly fail to. Miliband should pay attention
News UK (formerly News International) has played it pretty quietly, but it looks like The Sun has dropped its Page Three feature this week after more than four decades. First introduced in 1970, less than a year after Rupert Murdoch bought the paper, Page Three has faced increasing criticism from campaigners, who argued that the feature was outdated and degrading to women.
But why has the change happened now? There have been passionate voices against Page Three since its inception. And some have suggested that by making Page Three such a totemic issue, campaigners extended its shelf life. But in the wake of the No More Page Three campaign – launched in September 2012 – the feature has come to an end. Is this a further example of the power of online campaigning? And if so, what are the lessons that the campaign’s political supporters, such as MPs Stella Creasy, Sadiq Khan and Yvette Cooper, can apply more widely?
The campaign had the benefit of simplicity. The Sun’s Page Three is just one example of semi-naked women in the newsagent’s – but taking a stand against this bastion of 1970s sexism has achieved more tangible change than a more complex stance against the objectification of women across the media. A simple campaign can also corral a wide range of supporters. The No More Page Three petition attracted more than 215,000 signatories and was supported by organisations such as the Girl Guides and Welsh Assembly. At least 30 universities had voted to stop selling The Sun until it dropped Page Three. But the more complex a campaigning platform, the more likely it is that potential backers would take issue with just one element, and withhold their support.
Some – such as Professor Ellis Cashmore at Aston University – have argued that Murdoch is unlikely to have been persuaded by online campaigners. Professor Cashmore argues that the feature was an outdated relic of the past that needed dispensing with to bring the paper in line with modern times. This, of course, is a further lesson for campaigning: by picking an issue that seems aligned with the direction of public opinion and cultural sensibilities, those who support it are more likely to associate themselves with success. Everyone likes to be on the winning side.
So as Ed Miliband heads out for his “Four-million conversations”, he needs his talking points to be simple and closely aligned to the prevailing attitudes of those he’ll be speaking with. Should he be focusing those conversations online? The Page Three debate suggests yes, and not just because of the success of the campaign. While boobs are (at least partially) covered up in The Sun’s hard copy this week, the title still has plenty of room for Page Three online as it seeks to drive its readership to the website. As the No More Page Three campaign finally drags News UK into the 21st Century, the publisher has retreated (or advanced) into the new battleground opened up by the internet. An even tougher fight awaits campaigners there.
Jon Bennett is managing director of corporate communications consultancy Linstock Communications.
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