With The Sun’s availability on campus being threatened by the imminent Guild referendum, Exeposé Comment looks at the arguments made for and against removing The Sun from Guild outlets and leaning on other campus stockists until the pictures of topless women are removed from page 3.
Across UK universities, removing The Sun from sale seems to be becoming a popular method of protesting sexism and misogyny in the media. A ferocious campaign led by No More Page 3 has seen the paper removed in a number of universities including LSE, Edinburgh and Dundee. They have also secured over 100,000 signatures in a petition to Dominic Mohan, the editor of The Sun, to, “drop the bare boobs from the newspaper.” With the referendum by the Guild underway this week led by the Vote Yes to boycotting The Sun on campus! group, some have seen the vote as an inappropriate attempt to limit our freedom of speech, while others still regard the issue as one of the objectification of women as mere voiceless sex objects.
Rachel Brown, former President of Exeter Gender Equality Society argues that, “If you want to buy The Sun, you can go to another newsagents which is no hardship. The Guild ban is about effective campaigning and the referendum makes it a fair process. It sends a clear message that we expect The Sun to ditch their patronising, sexualised representation of women.” Those in favour of banning The Sun are keen to point out that the move is designed to withdraw support for the newspaper from the Guild, and not to dictate people’s reading habits. At its core, the issue concerns the naked breasts present in many issues of The Sun, and the harm that this does to gender equality. No More Page 3’s open letter petition highlights that, “George Alagiah doesn’t say, ‘And now let’s look at Courtney, 21, from Warrington’s bare breasts,’ in the middle of the 6 O’ Clock News, does he, Dominic?… No, they don’t. There would be an outcry.”
It makes sense to say that Page Three Girls are an outdated and misogynistic addition to our printed media, but does that really mean that we should remove the UK’s most widely read publication from campus?
Rob Price, one of those heading the “Vote No to banning The Sun from Guild Shops” group, comments that,” We are not defending Page 3, but rather the spirit of open debate in the student body. The YES campaign can achieve nothing, because The Guild has no jurisdiction over the marketplace, the only stockist of The Sun of campus – but a victory would nonetheless be an attempt to restrict access to material that you disagree with for others, and that is the essence of censorship. So whilst freedom of choice will not actually be infringed, the motion is nonetheless an attempt to do so, and it is on these grounds that we oppose it.”
Freedom of expression is obviously something that should protected, but to what extent and when does protecting one group’s right to expression results in the persecution of another? For many, it is the case that it is no one’s right to, and the media’s responsibility not to, objectify and over-sexualise a woman in any way. Christopher Fear wrote in the Vote No group, “[The Yes Campaign] is small-minded, parochial, embarrassing, practically ineffective and, as a purely symbolic act, a distraction from the concrete interests of gender equality.”
In Exeposé Comment‘s most responded to Facebook poll to date, 76% voted that The Sun should not be removed from all University campus outlets. Obviously this result comes from a significantly smaller sample size than the referendum being held by the Guild will be subject to, but it does perhaps give a feel for the sentiments of the student population in Exeter.
Of those who responded to the poll, it should come as no surprise that the majority of people who wished to see The Sun banned were women, while the overwhelming majority of those wishing to keep The Sun on our shelves were men. That is not to say that only a woman could have any interest in the promotion of gender equality, however it’s reasonable to suggest that in this situation the female population at the University of Exeter has a more tangible, immediate interest in the issue.
While we believe that The Sun promotes a view of women that is derogatory at best while being neither true or relevant in modern society, there is a fine line to tread between the noble pursuit of equality for all and falling into the trap of enveloping censorship. By no means do we think that this referendum will be the beginning of a slippery slope to overbearing Guild influence, but it does perhaps set a precedent for any and all matters of offence to result in campus-wide reform.
James Bennett and Dave Reynolds, Online Comment Editors
For further argument from both sides read Virginia Walsh’s Banning The Sun: Boobs Aren’t News and Harry Chamberlain’s Banning The Sun: Nothing Short of Censorship. Do you find The Sun’s depiction of women sexist or misogynistic? Is banning the paper the appropriate way of protesting their content? Leave a comment below or write to the Comment team at the Exeposé Comment Facebook Group or on Twitter @CommentExepose.bookmark me