Photos of topless women could be banned from newspapers under plans backed by the Liberal Democrat conference.
Former MP Evan Harris held up pictures of Page 3 girls in The Sun yesterday as he issued his call for newspapers and magazines to be subject to the same restrictions as pre-watershed television.
Dr Harris told the conference, in Birmingham: “Tabloid newspapers in particular, which call themselves family newspapers, should not be able to portray women in a sexualised way, in a way that the broadcast media would not be able to do in soap operas and children’s television programmes before the watershed.”
His plan, aimed at “tackling the projection of women as sex objects to children and adolescents”, received strong support.
Harris said: “Why should it be considered acceptable and mainstream in hypocritical family newspapers to portray women in this way?”
Brandishing copies of The Sun and the Daily Star, Harris added: “It’s just wrong in my view that this should be seen as normalised.
“Ok, these images can be available for adults if they want to access them, but they should have to reach up to a higher shelf than what is at the general view for young people.”
Dr Harris’ measure on “sexualised images” would apply to newspapers and general circulation magazines.
It was added to a conference motion on tackling violence against women which said child prostitutes should not be treated as criminals.
The motion also called for women’s prisons to be closed and replaced with a network of small custodial units, and a presumption that most female offenders would be receive support and supervision in the community rather than behind bars.
Harris said the phone hacking scandal provided an opportunity to take on the tabloids.
“Every time this is raised in Parliament or raised generally, the tabloids turn on the people advocating that there should be more respectful images of women and less objectification,” he said.
But the hacking row was prompting a shake-up of media regulation, he said, adding: “Now is the chance for us to make sure that the normal portrayal of women is not one that is purely objectification.
“We know the impact that this can have on adolescents, boys and girls, and we have the chance … to say that we will seize the moment in policy terms to do something about it.”
Harris said the move was not “over-censorious” as broadcast media had “quite a lot of licence in drama, there’s certainly licence in anthropological programmes about human civilisation”.
He added: “We can end, once and for all, the hypocrisy of tabloids moaning about paedophiles on one page and then saying ‘hello Gemma, 16 today, first pictures of Gemma aged 16’. That isn’t acceptable, it’s corrosive.”
Baroness Hamwee, co-chair of the party’s backbench home affairs committee, urged activists to oppose Harris’ amendment, saying “it doesn’t make clear how this would work”.
“We are concerned it raises a number of unanswered questions, there may be unintended consequences.”