Photo/IllutrationCritics of Shincho 45 monthly magazine rally in front of the Shinchosha Publishing Co. building in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward on Sept. 25. (Satoru Semba)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The publishing industry is reeling from the abrupt decision by a venerable publishing house to fold a decades-old magazine that drew heavy fire for defending a homophobic article by a ruling party lawmaker.

Shinchosha Publishing Co. announced the closure of its monthly magazine Shincho 45 on Sept. 25. The decision came a week after the release of the magazine’s October edition featuring a special package of articles defending the one by Mio Sugita, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party who labeled gay couples as “unproductive” and criticized the use of taxpayer money to assist sexual minorities.

Her article published in the August issue, released in July, set off a firestorm.

Takashi Odajima, a longtime columnist for the magazine, accused Shinchosha of not properly addressing the controversy and closing the curtain on the magazine without holding sufficient debate.

“Above all, the magazine should have apologized to the public for carrying discriminatory articles and apologized to the people who were offended by them,” he said.

Akira Nagae, a freelance writer, lamented the way the publisher handled the fiasco.

“A publishing company is a media outlet,” he said. “Shinchosha should have pulled the plug on the magazine only after putting out a special issue where the editors discussed the criticism they received from the public and how they reflected on their own conduct.”

A former editor in chief of an opinion magazine said Shinchosha’s decision to fold the publication was “sudden, but not totally unexpected.”

He called the special package “appalling,” adding that he assumed Shincho 45 was too understaffed and under-resourced to publish to acceptable standards.

“From the viewpoint of somebody who used to publish a magazine, Shincho 45 ended up folding simply because it was under pressure to generate tangible results (increased circulation), despite being given insufficient resources by the company management to do so.”

The predecessor of Shincho 45 made its debut in 1982, targeting readers aged 45 or older.

Monthly circulation averaged 16,800 from April to June, less than 40 percent of the number over the same period in 2008, according to the Japan Magazine Publishers Association.

Although Shincho 45 was once highly regarded for its nonfiction articles, it shifted emphasis to pieces by polemic writers who are regulars to right-wing publications after the current editor in chief took the helm in September 2016.

Robert Campbell, a scholar of Japanese literature who came out in his blog after Sugita’s article ignited controversy, predicted that the magazine's closure will have "serious consequences" because Shinchosha is one of Japan’s most respected media outlets.

“But we should not jump to the conclusion that the issue of discriminatory speech (against LGBTs) is over just because the magazine folded," he said. "It is imperative to scrutinize how assertions close to hate speech and distorted facts were published.”

Mobbed by reporters on the evening of Sept. 25, Yukihito Ito, a director in charge of public relations at Shinchosha, acknowledged that the magazine’s editorial staff was unable to scrutinize articles carefully because of limited resources resulting from plunging sales. Aside from the editor in chief, the magazine has five staff members.

“The reason for folding the magazine was the October issue, rather than the August issue,” Ito said.

In a unusual statement released Sept. 21, Takanobu Sato, president of Shinchosha, stepped into the fray and acknowledged the October issue contained “some expressions full of prejudice that lacked appropriate recognition and deviated from common sense.”

Despite being pressed by reporters, Ito did not clarify which of the seven articles in the special package the company president took umbrage to.