Monday, 10 November 2014

Head of PR at The Sun replies to complaint from breast cancer patient about Page 3

I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall.

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer aged 33 in July 2014 I have written several times about why The Sun’s use of Page 3 models as part of a breast cancer awareness campaign has upset me (My original letter here). Finally, I’ve had a response. Dylan Sharpe, Head of PR at The Sun has written to me about some questions which I had asked.

My first question was:
  • What specifically is being gained in terms of raising breast cancer awareness by using topless models?
Has Dylan answered this question? No.

In response to this question, Dylan referred me to an article that The Sun published recently. (This is reproduced in the copy of his email to me, below). However, there is nothing in this article that actually answers my question. The article tells me that breast cancer awareness was increased amongst Sun readers – women are checking themselves more regularly, women know more about how to check themselves, women are more aware of signs of breast cancer such as puckering and a rash and so on. But as I said in my letter to Dylan, this is because The Sun published written information and diagrams (provided by Coppafeel!) about breast checking and breast cancer signs and symptoms. The sexualised images of topless models add nothing to raising breast cancer awareness! Like I have said many times, that’s why charities like Breast Cancer Care, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Campaign, MacMillan and Cancer Research UK, along with the NHS, do not use sexualised images of topless women, ever, to raise awareness of breast cancer.

So, Dylan has not answered this question – and that’s not because he misunderstood it, I’m sure he is intelligent enough to have understood a simple question. The reason he hasn’t answered it is because nothing was gained by using topless models and he will not admit that in writing to me. Any success of Check ‘em Tuesday will have been despite the use of Page 3 models, rather than because of it.

My other two questions were:
  • Is it appropriate to use sexualised images of women (as in Page 3 vs Breast Cancer - Check 'em Tuesday) as part of a campaign to raise breast cancer awareness?
  • Exactly why won't The Sun try and raise breast cancer awareness without the use of topless models?
Has Dylan answered them? No.

Despite writing “As for your second questions...” and then continuing for another 514 words, Dylan hasn’t actually answered either of these questions! However, judging by what he has written, I assume his answers would be:
  • Yes it is appropriate to use sexualised images of women as part of a campaign to raise breast cancer awareness, and
  • The Sun won’t try and raise breast cancer awareness without the use of topless Page 3 models because we really like topless Page 3 models.
But he hasn’t actually said it outright.

Instead, I think he has tried to give me a bit of a telling off! This is what he’s told me: “Please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water because you want The Sun to be a reflection of only what you want to see.”

Just to be clear, I’m not throwing any babies out with any bath water. I am a member of the public, making a complaint, as I am entitled to do, because as Dylan says: The Sun is not a reflection of what I want to see. And what I want to see is not unreasonable:

For women to be treated with respect by The Sun.

As Dylan points out in his email to me, copied below, the first inside page of a newspaper is the most important page. Pretty much every day The Sun chooses to use its most important page to show a large image of a young woman wearing nothing but her pants. Every time The Sun does this it is sending the message to all its readers that women are nothing more than sexual objects.

The fact that The Sun thought it was acceptable to put people in to a prize draw for a date with a Page 3 model ('We might even let you pick which one, so feel free to start your research now') as part of their fantasy football league makes this message (that The Sun think women are just objects) even more clear. The Advertising Standards Agency has now banned this advert due to it “presenting women as objects to be won”, and for being “sexist, offensive and socially irresponsible”. Of course, Dylan Sharpe thinks this ban means it is official that the world has gone mad:

The world has not gone mad at all. People are just making their voices heard, and telling you that they want The Sun to treat women with respect, and as human beings with equal worth as men.

Anyway, I’ll end with two final points:

I am still upset that The Sun have used a breast cancer awareness campaign to try and justify the existence of Page 3, blatantly in response to the No More Page 3 campaign.

I’m not going to be fobbed off by Dylan’s non-response and just shut up and go away. Page 3 is sexist, derogatory, damaging. It disempowers women and girls and sends a message to men and boys that women’s bodies exist for men’s sexual gratification. (Have a read of this for some real life examples of how Page 3 is having a negative effect on people's lives.) So if you haven’t already signed the petition asking The Sun to take the bare boobs out of the newspaper, then please do.

I’ll be back soon with more.


Please find a copy of Dylan’s email to me below, in full, and unedited, as requested.

I tweeted Kris Hallenga's piece to you because there is a refusal among some who take issue with The Sun's content to acknowledge that the Coppafeel! Check 'em Tuesday campaign has been a great success. I would request that you put a link to Kris's Telegraph piece, and the piece below by Rachel Richardson, on your blog and share it with your followers to show them how brilliant it is that The Sun has had a positive impact on breast cancer detection and awareness among its readers.

Turning to your 'open letter', with regards to your first question, you can see what is being gained 'specifically' by the results of our independent survey of over 7,000 readers, as Rachel explains:

BREAST cancer awareness and boob checking has dramatically improved thanks to The Sun’s Check ’em Tuesday crusade.
Two thirds of women are now checking their breasts for cancer symptoms more often than they did six months ago.
The women polled say CoppaFeel! — our Check ’em Tuesday charity partner — is the reason for their life-saving checking habit.
Sun reader Wendy Bush, 43, below, revealed her breast cancer was caught early, after our campaign, launched in March, made her aware the rash and puckering on her breast could be a sign.
Female Sun readers are also significantly more breast aware than other women in the UK, with 59 per cent checking their boobs once a month compared with just 32 per cent of non-readers.
And they are also 13 per cent more likely to check themselves now than they were in February — before our influential campaign launched.
Kris Hallenga, the founder of CoppaFeel! who has incurable breast cancer, hailed the results as a huge triumph for the campaign and her charity.
She said: “We always knew it would have a real impact. CoppaFeel! exists to save lives by teaching women to spot the signs of breast cancer so it is hugely rewarding to see that we’ve helped.
"I am extremely proud of what we have achieved by joining forces with The Sun.”
Every Tuesday the campaign takes over Page 3 — Britain’s most famous boobs — with our models reminding readers to check, while Kris writes weekly in Me health.
The campaign is also a hit on social media. Dozens of celebrities pledged their support by posing for a boob check selfie. Images of Ed Sheeran, Fearne Cotton, Amanda Holden, Danny Dyer and Kim Marsh accompanied by #checkemtuesday have reached millions of people.
The Sun put its full weight behind the campaign after alarming statistics showed more women were checking their weight than their breasts for cancer and only 18 per cent of women were confident they knew how to examine their boobs.
Fifty thousand women — around 136 a day — plus 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
Early detection is key to survival with more than 90 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage surviving for at least five years.
Now, 79 per cent of readers feel confident they would notice an unexplained change — up from 41 per cent in March.
The new poll, which surveyed 7,884 people, also showed 31 per cent of readers are more likely to recognise puckering as a symptom while 29 per cent are more likely to know redness or a rash can also indicate cancer.

As for your second questions and your first blog directed towards me ( the journalistic call out was for a piece that is online here:

As you will have gathered, the feature was part of a wider campaign that Coppafeel! is running under the umbrella of ‘what normal feels like’.
This campaign has been widely reported, including:

This campaign has attracted widespread praise and support and I hope that your readers can get behind this campaign as Sun readers have done.

The demographics of most Sun readers – 20s and early 30s, low to medium incomes – and the demographics of women least likely to check for signs of breast cancer are very similar. These are the women at whom this campaign is targeted in The Sun, in which case it made sense for the case studies in our feature to reflect that intended audience.

In addition, I would like to add that The Sun isn’t a charity, however I would argue that in devoting it’s first inside page (which, as anyone in newspapers will tell you, is the most important page) once a week to a charity campaign, plus another page or often more in our health section - Me - The Sun is giving more weekly prominence to a charity than any other daily newspaper on the market. On that first inside page, we do provide the “information women need to know to check their breasts and be aware of potential signs” (example below).

[Note: Dylan included an image here of the Coppafeel! diagram with information about breast cancer signs and symptoms but I was unable to copy the image across from email to here]

Again, if you can find a health warning like this given similar, regular prominence in any newspaper I’d ask you to share it.

The 200,000 people who have signed NMP3’s petition is roughly equal to 10% of the number of people who buy the Sun (with page 3 in it) every single day. I wonder how high the NMP3 petition would be if it regularly reset to 0 at midnight as our daily sales do? However, we have taken the decision that Page 3 can be used to promote important causes. As the survey results show, the Coppafeel! Check ‘em Tuesday campaign has had some wonderful successes. The Coppafeel! advice line has had a record number of users. At least five women have written to us to tell us they diagnosed their own breast cancer as a direct result of The Sun’s campaign. And the women who model for Page 3 have done a number of stunts and events to raise money and awareness for Coppafeel! and breast cancer awareness – the latest a bike ride around India.

It is possible to oppose Page 3 and to want a less sexualised culture, but to also support the campaign The Sun and Coppafeel! are conducting to raise awareness of breast cancer and the importance of checking. Please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water because you want The Sun to be a reflection of only what you want to see.

I hope you now consider your questions answered. I ask that if you choose to use my response on your blog, you do so in full and unedited.

Kind regards


  1. Typical case of avoiding the question and setting up straw men. Undeniably the "coppafeel" campaign has been successful in terms of getting women to check themselves for signs of breast cancer, however the question being asked is whether the use of topless models has had any impact on the success of the campaign. I would argue that the same campaign run without topless models would be just as successful. His comments about the paper giving space to a charity campaign being something that no other newspaper does is misleading - many newspapers give space to charities, especially in the run up to Christmas.

    His comments about the NMP3 petition are disgusting. How dare he belittle and dismiss the work of the campaign with comments about "how many signatures would we get if figures were reset to zero at midnight" is at best patronising, at worst showing a complete ignorance of how petitions work.

    We need to keep fighting.

  2. Dylan's English is bloody awful. He's head of PR?

    And "the women who model for Page 3 have done a number of stunts" STUNTS.