After widespread outrage over the publication of topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, the 42-year-old tabloid institution of Page 3 is once more under threat.
A new campaign, called No More Page 3, appears to have tapped into public concerns about press morality, and has used the viral power of social networking sites to win almost 24,000 signatories to an online petition addressed to Dominic Mohan, editor of The Sun.
The campaign is being led by Lucy Holmes, an actress and writer, whose petition tells Mohan: "We are asking very nicely. Dominic, stop showing topless pictures of young women in Britain's most widely read newspaper, stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects."
Last night Holmes told The Independent: "It has been a great start but I do intend for it to get bigger. We are inviting The Sun's biggest advertisers to withdraw their support for the last week of October. Although we would love to think that The Sun would be concerned about the amount of people up in arms over the way they objectify women, I think they would be more concerned when their major advertisers start pulling out."
The Sun, which was obliged to publish an unprecedented apology last week over its false reporting of the Hillsborough football tragedy and claimed its mistakes were the results of the culture of a bygone era, has so far refused to budge.
Yesterday it interrupted five pages of coverage of the murders of young policewomen Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone to offer a naked picture of "Danni, 24, from Coventry". Beneath the photo, the paper directed its readers to a new feature on its website, "Page 360", "which gives you an all-round view of our beauties". This facility is also offered as an iPad app. But just as digital technology is being used to expand Page 3 so it is also empowering its critics. The No More Page 3 campaign is being driven by activity on Twitter and Facebook and receiving support from bloggers. Support has included messages on Twitter from the comedians Jennifer Saunders, Chris Addison and Josie Long, as well as the writer and Times columnist Caitlin Moran. Holmes said she had not received a response from The Sun despite efforts from Radio 4's Woman's Hour.
She noted that the German tabloid Bild had dropped a similar Page One Girl feature earlier this year. "This is part of the 1970s and it's 2012 now, surely we are not the same society," she said. "We are not sitting quietly and taking it any more."
Page 3 is a sensitive issue ahead of Lord Justice Leveson's report. Publication of the topless pictures of the Duchess by the Irish Daily Star enraged its publisher Richard Desmond, who has threatened to close the paper, even though the British Star embraces the Page 3 tradition.