British tabloid The Sun published a photo of a winking topless model on Thursday, shooting down reports it had ended the controversial tradition that has featured in the newspaper since 1970.
Newspaper The Times, which like the Sun is part of billionaire media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s News UK group, reported on Tuesday that the page three feature had been shelved and the news was welcomed by government ministers.
However, The Sun featured a photo of a bare-breasted blonde woman in its Thursday edition under the words “clarifications and corrections”.
“Further to recent reports in all other media outlets, we would like to clarify that this is Page 3 and this is a picture of Nicole, 22, from Bournemouth,” the caption to the photograph read.
“We would like to apologise on behalf of the print and broadcast journalists who have spent the last two days talking and writing about us.”
Amid the publicity, the Sun had directed readers to find its topless photos on a dedicated website. Head of public relations Dylan Sharpe said on Tuesday “The Sun hasn’t said either way what’s happening to page 3.”
The No More Page 3 campaign, which had triumphantly celebrated the apparent change earlier in the week as “a great day for people power”, was forced to backtrack.
“It seems the fight might be back on. Thanks to @TheSunNewspaper for all the publicity they’ve given the campaign,” it tweeted.
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 two generations of British males in line with the paper’s macho swagger.
But last year Murdoch indicated the photos might be falling out of favour by asking his Twitter followers whether women looked better in “fashionable clothes” and describing the tradition as “old fashioned”.
In an indication of the national import of page three’s possible demise, the issue was even raised at a briefing by David Cameron’s spokesman, who said the prime minister’s view was that “editors’ decisions are for editors”.
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.
But a poll by YouGov in 2012 found 61% of respondents in favour of keeping the pin-ups.
The Sun on Sunday, which was launched in 2012 after Murdoch’s News of the World was forced to close because a scandal over phone hacking, has never featured topless women.
There have been signs in recent months that The Sun was testing the waters on not featuring a page three model.
Every Friday in November, the newspaper featured a footballer in boxer shorts on page three to encourage men to test for testicular cancer.
It ran into trouble last year, however, for an advert offering the chance to win a date with a page three model as a prize in a fantasy football competition.
Model Jodie Marsh recently sent out a series of angry tweets lashing out at critics of the photos.
“I loved doing page 3, it was good money, I felt powerful, I was definitely in control,” she wrote.
“Telling girls they shouldn’t do page 3 is not being a feminist. Women should do whatever they want.”
Image – Campaigners from Object and Turn Your Back On Page 3 protest over the Sun newspaper’s daily photos of topless female models outside the UK offices of News International in east London on November 17, 2012. (AFP)