HOW MUCH FREEDOM IS TOO MUCH?

Recently I went to lunch with a client.
This is an energetic, intelligent, unconventional person.
We had a really good time exchanging views and ideas.
The only road bump was when we came to discuss The Sun.
And especially page 3.
I’ve always seen The Sun as a bit of harmless fun.
Sort of a grownup comic.
You read it for the jokes but don’t actually take it seriously.
It’s wittier than The Mirror, The Star, The Sport, The News of the World.
And it’s not so whiny or negative as The Mail.
Once or twice a week I’ll find a really good headline in it.
I usually find NEWS IN BRIEFS funny.
This is the little caption over the page 3 nude photo.
It will say something like “Tracy, 23, from Essex think the chancellor’s fiscal policies must take into consideration the viability of necessary levels of debt reduction.”
Obviously the girl herself doesn’t write them.
It’s just standard schoolboy humour: cognitive dissonance.
But the person I was talking to got quite upset.
He said he’d been at a dinner where the Sun’s editor, Rebekah Wade, had been giving a speech.
Talking about how much better things were for women now they had equal opportunity.
He said she couldn’t see how laughably at odds that was with what she was doing in her newspaper.
Showing naked women on page 3, whose sole function was ‘wank material’ for blokes.
He said the ‘News In Briefs’ comments poked fun at women.
Readers were encouraged to laugh at their stupidity.
It made me stop and think.
I never saw it like that.
But it made me check my view of The Sun against my own moral position.
I’ve always believed anything is okay as long as it takes place between the following:
1) Consenting.
2) Adults.
3) In private.
If you tick those three boxes, nothing you do is anyone else’s business.
If you only tick two, that’s not enough.
If you’re both consenting, and adults, but it’s not in private, then that won’t do.
Other people may not want to see whatever you’re doing.
Get a room.
If you’re both consenting, and it’s in private, but you’re not adults, then that won’t do.
You have to be old enough to take responsibility for your actions.
Children can’t do that.
If you’re both adults, and it’s in private, but one of you doesn’t consent, then that won’t do.
That’s called rape.
How does The Sun’s page 3, and ‘News In Briefs’ stack up?
Well, I guess everyone’s consenting.
The girls are being paid, and they’re obviously proud of their bodies.
They want to do it.
And the person looking at it wants to, or they wouldn’t have bought the paper.
Which brings us to the second point.
Is it in private?
Well, to see it, you have to buy a copy of The Sun.
You have to actively choose to participate.
If you don’t want to see it, you buy a different paper.
But you can’t do that with a poster site in the street.
Posters are broadcast media.
So posters have to have a stricter control.
That’s why there are controls on TV programmes, liked the nine o’clock watershed.
So you have a choice.
If you don’t want your children exposed to rude language or bad taste, don’t let them watch TV after nine o’clock.
Which brings us to the third point.
Adults.
Can we be sure everyone who reads The Sun is an adult?
Well no, not really.
So should The Sun be sold on the top shelf, where only adults can reach?
Well, that’s a point for discussion I guess.
Personally I don’t know anyone who buys The Sun for page 3.
Before they started to write ‘News In Briefs’ I don’t know anyone who even looked at it.
If you want naked women there are publications with many more of them in.
Printed in full colour on glossy, easy to wipe clean, stock.
So where does that leave us?
Personally I think The Sun offends Guardian readers.
I don’t quite know why.
The Mail seems to me to be more the Yin to the The Guardian’s Yang.
Both of them see themselves as the protector of moral rectitude.
The Sun is just a bit of fun.
And consequently, sells more than both of them put together.
So is The Sun really responsible for perpetuating a stereotype of women that is actually harmful?
On the one hand, you have a powerful female editor.
And a paper that actively supported Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister.
On the other hand, you’ve got nudes on page 3.
I think the truth is that people who read The Sun don’t really think that deeply.
That’s why they read The Sun.
So maybe the real question is: should people who don’t think deeply be allowed to buy what they want?
I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this.
Jeremy Bentham’s definition of Utilitarianism was “The greatest happiness for the greatest number”.
John Stuart Mill’s problem with this was that, left to their own devices, ordinary people may be happy living like pigs.
And his view was, “It’s better to be Shakespeare and miserable, than a pig and happy.”
Which doesn’t really answer either of the questions.
Point one: is The Sun’s page 3 (and ‘News In Briefs’) really harmful?
Point two: if it is, should something be done about it?

What makes a pronouncement difficult is something else Mill said, “Your freedom to do as you please ends one inch in front of my nose.”

  • Are you related to John Nicholson? Did you also have a misspent youth listening to albums by The Dreadful Great? It shows. The Sun as a bit of fun? Ask the people of Liverpool. And, please, cut the market segmentation crap for a minute and stop pigeon-holing people as Guardian readers or Sun readers. The real question here is ‘Does the media create the market? Or does the market create the media?’

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    If I am travelling to work on the bus/tube I buy the Sun. Although Metro is free, the Sun has more in it I haven’t already seen online the previous day, so I pay my 20p. The content in grown-up newspapers is too deep for my journey time; I want a quick look at lots of things.

    If I am going on a train journey lasting over an hour, I buy the Sun, Guardian and Mail. That way I can get a feel for what different people are reading about and with what slant.

    As a Guardian reader I don’t find the Sun offensive.

    I read the Mail as an alternative view to the Guradian, I am interested.
    I don’t believe the newspaper(s) you read defines your morals.

    The Sun is fun 🙂

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    Hi Mark and Ivan,
    The comedian Peter Cook used to read every paper, every day.
    I once asked him, if he could only read one paper, which one would it be.
    He said “The Sun and The Guardian:.
    I said, no just one paper.
    He said “That is one paper.”

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    Dave, hope you haven’t been anywhere near a spanner today?!

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    I don’t really find the news in briefs offensive, but nor do I find it funny.
    I hold it with the same sort of regard I might a racist joke; something that’s painfully unfashionable and perpetuates an archaic idea, if only intended as a bit of fun.
    But then there’s FHM, Nuts and Zoo that are all worse for that sort of thing… so why the fuss?
    I think it’s simply the context that jars with people; a newspaper doesn’t feel the place for it.
    I really wonder how many readers would miss it if it were to disappear. Would those who miss it be bothered to seek the same sort of thing elsewhere? Probably not.

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    Grilla,
    The worst part was the name on the spanner, ‘King Dick’.
    Thomas,
    I agree, I think Murdoch only keeps it going because he knows it upsets straight-laced people.
    A bit the way teenagers like to upset their parents.

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    Dave – perhaps u r looking at it the wrong way 😉

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    What, Dick King?

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    Let’s just say if I were to be pictured wielding a large tool with the name ‘King Dick’ machined into its metal… I would be wearing a knowing smile – Especially if I thought it might end up on the front page of the Sun.

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    “I think it’s simply the context that jars with people; a newspaper doesn’t feel the place for it.”
    Thomas, I think that’s the nub of it.
    Personally I never saw The Sun as a newspaper, just a comic for grownups.
    Apparently 25% of Sun sales were from people who buy it as the fun supplement to their serious paper.

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    Isn’t it easier to buy what we’ve been conditioned to? (LOL)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxo81Ok9Urk&feature=related

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    Hi, I really enjoy Dave Trott’s blogs, and also very much enjoy reading the comments. I’m not 100% sure about this article though so decided it was the right time to throw in a comment. Two things I’m not convinced about..

    1. (yes I’m going to play the feminist card here!) The Sun’t page 3 is so old-fashioned, it tells thousands of people every day that its OK to only see women as a pair of boobs. And making fun out of their intelligence is just not on. Yes they consent to this and they get paid, but that doesn’t make it OK. Prostitutes get paid – is that OK?

    2. Its pretty harsh to pigeon-hole people who read the Sun as not deep thinkers. I’m proud to admit I’m a massively stereotypical Guardian reader, but sometimes do get the feeling that I’m being brainwashed! If you buy it on the weekend you’re told what to wear, what to eat, what music to listen to, which films to watch, the list goes on. You’re not required to think because the Guardian does it for you. The Sun, on the other hand, at least lets its reader make its own mind up.

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    Hi Jo,
    On your first point “Prostitutes get paid – is that OK?”
    Well, for some people the answer is yes.
    BBH used to do the advertising for The International Collective Of Prostitutes.
    You can see some of the posters on their website.
    Their stated aim is: “campaigning for the abolition of the prostitution laws which criminalize sex workers and our families, and for economic alternatives
    and higher benefits and wages.”
    So some people who want to be prostitutes, and some people want to use the services of prostitutes.
    As long as it’s between consenting, adults, in private, is it wrong?

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    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the reply. Obviously nobody grows up thinking “I really want to be a prostitute when I grow up, I wonder if my local college do a course in it?”
    But I absolutely agree with your point that if someone did find that that was the path their life had taken, they would want to be protected, properly paid, etc.

    We’re in a bit of a catch 22 situation! I’m not sure I know the answer to be honest.

    I think that the best course of action would be to get in contact with Rebekah Wade and suggest that on alternative days there is a picture of a hot naked man on page 3. Everybody’s a winner!

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    Jo,
    I think they tried that ages ago “Page 3 Fella” but after the initial gesture I think it got a bit flat.
    Women weren’t that bothered, and men obviously weren’t interested.
    So they went back to the saucy portcard vaudeville humour of a naked bird.
    “Oo-er missus.”

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    Dammit. Thought I was onto a winner there!

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    Dave…between consenting, conscious, adults, in private.

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    Fair point m s

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    I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Voltaire

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    Hi jayne,
    Apart from the death bit, I’m with Voltaire.
    Tony Benn said, “Democracy is about the vitality of the debate, it is not about crushing the opposition.”

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    I couldn’t agree with you and Tony more Dave 🙂

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    A friend sent me a text recently.
    It would be great as an exam question:-
    “All men like to believe they are marrying a Nymphomaniac.
    A few years later all they have left is the Maniac”.
    Please discuss.

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    it’s funny how people can often confuse passion with aggression. Gandhi was a very passionate and peaceful man, who would fight to the death for his beliefs and equal opportunities. the fact he was peaceful and just, made people angry.

    do you believe everything your friends ‘text’ you Kevin? 🙂

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    Can’t say it’s my own experience thank God,
    but I’m sure a lot of people have experienced this.
    Usually because they won’t allow their partners to be
    free to be themselves once they’ve married.
    It could still be a fun question for Adult Education.
    As for Ghandi, yes he did well didn’t he.
    He took the British Empire apart armed with no less
    than a reel of homespun cotton.

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    a bit of space, honesty, respect and trust – that’s all we all need Kev 🙂

  • Eoin Alexander

    George never lets anyone stay entirely comfortable with liking him. For every Senate address, there’s an “I’m a cat” moment soon to follow.

  • Margit Appleton

    “By the bottles of Domestos I sat down and wept” – great line!