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U.K. Tabloid 'The Sun' Ends Topless Tradition

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For more than 40 years, the best-selling tabloid newspaper in Britain showed photos of topless women almost every day. The paper is The Sun and this happened on page three. Well, as of this week the women on that page are wearing clothes - not a lot, but, they're not topless. The end of this tabloid era follows years of campaigning by feminist groups which the paper's owner, Rupert Murdoch, had long ignored. Vicki Barker reports from London, starting with an advertisement that exemplified the old version of page three.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hello boys. Look at your woman. Now back to me. Now back at your woman. Now back to me.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: In this 2010 ad marking the 40th anniversary of The Sun's page three feature, a model sways in front of a running shower, her towel almost losing its battle with gravity. Feeding male fantasies on a daily basis was part of the formula that helped Rupert Murdoch turn the failing daily he acquired in 1969 into Britain's biggest selling newspaper. Steve Hewlett is a British media commentator.

STEVE HEWLETT: When this started, it was all about an offer to a key constituency, if you like, the working bloke, to say we'll give you what you want. Don't let the BBC or feminists tell you you can't have it. We're there for you. Well, the world has now moved on.

BARKER: There's been no public announcement from The Sun, but another Murdoch-owned paper, The Times of London, confirms that Friday's topless page three girl - and they're always called girls - would be the last.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO MORE PAGE 3")

THE CAMPAIGN CHORUS: (Singing) We'll know freedom once we heal the mind.

BARKER: This is the No More Page 3 Campaign song, played as activists posted a huge collage on YouTube comprising all the images of men and of women from three months of The Sun. The men are all athletes, leaders, almost always shown in motion. The women, even when clothed, are almost all passive and pouting. To the campaigners, page three was just the tip of a cultural iceberg.

Stella Creasy is a British lawmaker.

STELLA CREASY: It wasn't about page three being offensive, but about the impacts on our society of judging men and women by different standards and basically saying that we didn't need boobs with our breakfast tables.

BARKER: This is, however, not the end of page three as a showcase for female flesh. Today's edition shows three bikini-clad soap actresses frolicking on a beach in that slot. Lucy-Anne Holmes helped spearhead the No More Page 3 campaign. She calls today's announcement a start.

LUCY-ANNE HOLMES: I can't stand here and say it's an amazing day for women and female representation in the media when, essentially, all The Sun have done is they've stopped showing nipples, but they're now going to show women in bikinis or underwear, say.

BARKER: Several former page three models have today been mourning the feature's end and defending what they have called their personal decision to display their bodies. Among them, Laura Lacole from Northern Ireland.

LAURA LACOLE: It's a sad day. For me, I feel that this isn't a triumph for feminism. It's a triumph for prudishness. I have made this choice. I want to openly and freely express my sexuality. There's no sort of men forcing me into this.

BARKER: The topless models have only vanished from print editions of The Sun. They can still be viewed in the paper's subscription-only online edition. And several analysts speculate that Rupert Murdoch may yet reintroduce the feature if he loses too many readers to rivals which continue to show nude women. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.