Britain's best-selling newspaper The Sun has quietly dropped photos of topless women from page 3, ending a controversial tradition that has lasted decades in a move hailed by feminist campaigners.
The Times, which like The Sun is owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's News UK, reported on Tuesday that last Friday's edition of the tabloid would be the last to feature a topless model after 44 years.
"The Sun will no longer feature topless models on page 3," The Times said, adding that the change had been on the cards since billionaire Murdoch last year described the custom as "old fashioned". The British tabloid, which has a circulation of 2.2 million, played down the story.
Its head of public relations Dylan Sharpe described it as "speculation". "The Sun hasn't said either way what's happening to page 3," he told AFP. "There's no confirmation from The Sun," he said. Tuesday's edition featured a photo of actresses in bikinis frolicking on a Dubai beach on page 3, while Monday's edition had a model in lingerie.
A tag line at the bottom of the page on Tuesday invited readers to view the online edition for topless photos of "Lucy from Warwick", implying that nudity may have shifted from print to the web.
The pin-ups have featured in the newspaper since 1970 when 20-year-old German model Stephanie Rahn became the first "Page 3 Girl" and the feature became something of an institution for nearly two generation of British males.
'Step in the right direction'
The page, which launched the careers of models Samantha Fox in the 1980s and Katie Price in the 1990s, has also long been criticised as sexist. An active petition to stop The Sun featuring topless models gathered more than 217,000 signatures.
The No More Page 3 campaign welcomed the apparent change in a Facebook posting, calling it "truly historic news and a great day for people power". The campaign was founded in 2012 by actress Lucy-Anne Holmes with support from groups including Girlguiding UK, Mumsnet and Breast Cancer UK.
Holmes reacted cautiously to the reports. "The Sun hasn't suddenly decided that women say, think and do interesting and incredible things," she told BBC 2's Newsnight programme.
"It's still basically saying women are here for decoration but it's a step in the right direction." Labour MP Stella Creasy, who also campaigned against the feature, said that The Sun's portrayal of women was "not the world we wanted to live in any more". "The sexualisation, the objectification of women in this way was basically saying to all of that what mattered, frankly, were our breasts not our brains," she added.
Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman said The Sun was "moving into the 21st century". The Sun's Irish edition had already banned topless girls in 2013, saying it had "a different audience" to the British edition. At the time, The Sun's editor David Dinsmore said he would resisting pressure to cover up page 3.
"I think that it is a lively issue for people who don't buy the paper," he told BBC Radio 5 Live. Britain's advertising watchdog last year banned an advert from The Sun offering the chance to win a date with a Page 3 model as a prize in a fantasy football competition.
An email sent to subscribers said those who recruited 10 players or more to their own "mini-league" would be entered into a prize draw for a date with a topless model. The advert was branded "demeaning to women" by the Advertising Standards Authority. But the paper responded that the prize "was an obviously light-hearted marketing exercise".