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'Shincho 45' folds without publisher explanation of discriminatory content

Protesters hold up placards decrying discriminatory coverage of sexual minorities by monthly magazine Shincho 45 in front of its publisher Shinchosha Publishing Co. in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, on Sept. 25, 2018. (Mainichi/Susumu Matsuzaki)

TOKYO -- Shinchosha Publishing Co. announced the suspension of monthly magazine "Shincho 45" after the publication faced fierce public criticism for running discriminatory articles on sexual minorities.

The publisher made the move without explaining in any detail what led to the decision or offering an apology in the pages of the magazine itself. The Sept. 25 announcement came just four days after Shinchosha President Takanobu Sato admitted that the magazine's coverage included "aberrant expressions full of prejudice and lacking understanding." It appears that Shinchosha was forced into action as management feared the growing accusations against the magazine would shake the foundation of the company.

Non-fiction author Kota Ishii, who has published many of his works in the magazine, said that the magazine's editorial team tried to attract particular readers for survival, but simply went too far. "Shincho 45 was one of the few established magazines that accepted non-fiction articles. They tried to maintain a balance, but failed this time," he said.

The controversy began when the August issue of Shincho 45 published a contribution by Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Mio Sugita. She claimed sexual minorities such as those in the LGBT community were "not productive" because their unions cannot bear children. The article triggered massive criticisms as discriminatory, and the House of Representatives member was reprimanded by the party. Still, some senior LDP officials intended to defend her.

The magazine then ran a feature of seven articles defending Sugita, and one of the contributors, literary critic Eitaro Ogawa, questioned if the rights of train gropers should also be protected if the rights of sexual minorities are recognized.

Ishii said monthly magazines have recently shifting to promoting distinctive angles that may not conform to predominantly acceptable social norms. He added that not going to extremes is "a challenge not only for Shincho 45, but for the entire publishing community."

Yoshiaki Kiyota, who heads the Shuppan News publishing industry magazine, explained that Shinchosha was originally a literary publisher, distancing itself from politics. "But as the business environment got tougher," he explained, "They apparently chose to deal with right-leaning subjects that they thought would attract readers."

Kiyota added that the events surrounding Shincho 45 show that Japanese society itself has become intolerant of hateful expressions: "I feel like people have become more aware of discrimination against minorities."

Shincho 45 contributor Nobukatsu Fujioka decried Shinchosha as "disgusting" for not naming the author President Sato described as using "aberrant expressions full of prejudice and lacking understanding." Fujioka was also critical of the decision to suspend the monthly magazine. "They created a precedent that a magazine can be blown away by applying public pressure," he charged. "They abandoned their responsibility as a publisher to protect freedom of expression."

The monthly is not the first magazine to face suspension due to controversial content. In 1995, the Bungei Shunju publishing house folded its monthly magazine "Marco Polo" after the publication did a feature denying the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, Shinchosha director of public relations Yukihito Ito told reporters at the company's Tokyo headquarters on Sept. 25 that the magazine's editorial team "apparently failed to conduct strict checks on its articles, going overboard in a bid to increase circulation."

"We are responsible as a company for our failure to establish a system that reviews content properly," Ito said. "The suspension of the publication, in general terms, means that the magazine is effectively discontinued."

Ito failed to give a clear answer to questions about exactly which portion of the magazine's coverage the company's president described as "aberrant expressions full of prejudice" in his Sept. 21 statement. "We make magazines with the cooperation of outside writers. I want to avoid clarifying who did what," said Ito.

On the night of Sept. 25, the Shinchosha headquarters was surrounded by more than 100 protesters. They included members of the LGBT community and their supporters, holding placards criticizing discrimination by the magazine and rainbow flags symbolic of sexual minorities.

A 25-year-old participant who used to work at a bookstore said she cannot condone the writings of Sugita and Ogawa "because they are hate speech." She added she felt betrayed as she had sold many Shinchosha books during her work. "Suspension is not enough," she said, angrily. "They should discontinue the title right away."

A Taiwan-born university teacher in the central Japan prefecture of Mie said he was angry at the publisher "for its systematic defense" of Sugita, saying, "Shinchosha must clearly explain the issues with the articles published."

(Japanese original by Kazuki Ohara, Satoshi Mogami and Atsuo Yamaguchi, Cultural News Department)

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