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Shincho 45 magazine hammered for apparent circulation-driven rightward shift

This screen capture shows the Shincho 45 magazine website with an image of the front cover of its October issue.

TOKYO -- The Shincho 45 monthly magazine, a title of the prestigious Shinchosha Publishing Co., is being lambasted over an October issue feature article defending a ruling party Diet member who authored an August piece discriminating against sexual minorities.

In her article in Shincho 45's August issue, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Mio Sugita called LGBT people "not productive" and questioned whether the public would support "use of tax money for LGBT couples," setting off an avalanche of discrimination accusations. The publication's October rebuttal defending Sugita has many in the industry wondering where the once respected magazine, known for carrying quality content, is headed.

Speculation is rife, including that the publisher is trying to boost sales through inciting hatred and throwing rocks at political correctness. A Shinchosha insider told the Mainichi Shimbun that the lean to the right began in its January issue, after management started to complain bitterly last fall about the magazine's declining circulation. "Issues carrying right-leaning content sold well, and they heard right-wing publications from other companies were increasing circulation. They apparently thus decided that this is the direction to go" for survival, the insider said.

According to the Japan Magazine Publishers Association, Shincho 45 sold 16,800 copies on average between April and June this year -- just 40 percent or so of the number 10 years ago.

Daisuke Tsuda, a popular journalist, guessed that Shinchosha decided to give right-wing contributors a shot because they cannot fold a publication with the company's name in its title. "I think it's a business-oriented thinking," he said.

Tsuda criticized the October issue feature as containing factual mistakes and lacking quality. "Even if the magazine sells out, the profit wouldn't be that big. I feel sad because I hear cries of disbelief from people inside and outside this publishing house known for history and tradition."

He is not alone in his pain and confusion over what is going on at Shinchosha. After all, the publisher has provided society with many good books.

Hiruneko Books, a bookstore in Tokyo's downtown Taito Ward, tweeted about the shift, "They (Shinchosha) may get better circulation and more advertisements. They may smirk and say, 'Now we are everywhere.' We must stop the chain reaction." The bookstore also announced that it will stop accepting new Shinchosha publications.

An editor with more than 10 years' experience at a major publisher says what is transpiring at Shinchosha is emblematic of a rightward shift in the on-paper publishing industry as a whole.

The editor sees Shincho 45's moves as a reaction to the growing influence online of people promoting political correctness, such as those backing the #MeToo movement to counter sexual harassment and violence. She was instructed a few years ago to put together a book featuring criticism of South Korea and China -- a subject popular among right-leaning readers. "I resisted but I was worried that they may move me out of my editing job," she said.

Shincho 45 was established in 1982, targeting readers aged 45 or older. Its official website explains that the magazine "is a bit dangerous, deep and thrilling, with an eye for hitting people's blind side, raising issues no one else does, and pondering life and death." Its February 2017 issue on life through the lens of illness won high praise for its depth.

When asked about the description given by the company insider that the magazine had taken a right turn under business pressure from management, the editorial department of the publication replied: "We withhold comment because the issue is about the magazine's editorial policy and sales strategy."

(Japanese original by Kasane Nakamura and Haruka Udagawa, General Digital News Center)

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