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Staff writer “Candid camera taping of TV presenters finally hits the black market!” “Confessions of 100 businessmen: Sex with Japan’s top 10 bra-buster beauties — I would do it this way!” “Real-life experience with a trendy Shibuya rape drug!” Such eye-grabbing headlines, which many Japanese find annoyingly rampant in magazine ads in newspapers and on posters inside trains, may finally be brought under a degree of control now that major newspapers are moving to curb such sexually explicit expressions. The Yomiuri Shimbun — the nation’s largest daily, with a circulation of 10 million — initiated the move in October, notifying magazine publishers and ad agencies — important sources of revenue — that it will apply stricter standards on sexual expressions in magazine ads. Three other major dailies quickly followed suit. The Sankei Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun asked advertisers to convey more modest sexual expressions, while the Asahi Shimbun decided not to carry ads that are “feared to constitute sexual harassment.” The Yomiuri announced in a Jan. 4 editorial its decision to suspend advertisements for the Weekly Magazine Gendai and Weekly Asahi Geino. Pointing out that more than 99 percent of its papers are delivered to homes, the editorial said: “Advertisements containing excessive sexual expressions are carried in newspapers that are delivered daily to homes and exposed to children’s eyes. The situation is far beyond what can be called normal.” The editorial also said it dropped the ads for the sake of decency. No mention has yet been made of the photographs or cartoon images of women or schoolgirls in sexual poses that often accompany these and other advertisements. As to specific reasons for suspending the two magazines’ ads, the Yomiuri said the Weekly Magazine Gendai, one of the most popular general circulation weeklies for businessmen, has consistently refused its requests to tone down its sexual content, while ads in the entertainment-oriented Weekly Asahi Geino contain too many questionable expressions to be rephrased. Another reason behind their decisions, some of the newspapers said, is the revised Equal Employment Opportunity Law, which obliges corporations to take measures to prevent sexual harassment. In a related step, representatives of 11 railways in the Kanto region met with magazine publishing officials on Jan. 14 to urge them to exercise restraint in the sexual content of their ads. The move followed the railways’ launch of a study group in November to examine specific problem cases. Magazine editors, for their part, reckon they can do nothing unless specific criteria for acceptable expressions can be established. “We have determined the scope of acceptable expressions by paying attention to the social atmosphere,” said Satoshi Suzuki, deputy editor in chief of the Weekly Magazine Gendai. “We have always been available for talks (with newspapers),” he said, criticizing the Yomiuri’s decision to suspend his magazine’s ads. He added that one need only read the articles that the criticized ads promote to see the way they are written shows no tolerance for sexual harassment. In a statement released earlier this month, the Weekly Asahi Geino said, “Terms that had been acceptable suddenly became ‘inappropriate’ one day last October.” The statement added that the weekly had notified the Yomiuri of its decision to suspend the ads before the daily told it to do so. Lawyer Sanae Tanaka said the issue of sexual expression in magazine ads is “different from the conventional conflict between restricting obscenity and freedom of expression, as seen in arguments on regulating pornography.” Tanaka, who raised the issue at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations’ annual convention last October, said both railways and newspapers serve the general public and thus bear a heavy social responsibility. Thus, she said, such institutions of a highly public nature should decide on their own whether to accept sexually explicit ads. Some magazine fliers, depicting photographs of women caught unawares, are effectively promoting the abuse of women’s rights, Tanaka said. Also, she said, other fliers describing sexual situations using common euphemisms offend passengers by, for example, forcing them to share such vivid sexual portrayals with total strangers in packed trains. “Railways are obliged not only to transport passengers from one place to another safely but also to provide them with comfortable space,” she said. Newspaper publishers, too, came under criticism during the recent national convention “Newspapers in Education,” an industrywide campaign to promote the use of papers partly as a means to cultivate future leaders. “It is unfair to tell us to use newspapers in classrooms, when they often carry sexually charged ads,” one teacher said. Railway officials said they have been aware for years of the excessive sexual expression in ads, but only in May 1997 did they first ask advertisers to exercise restraint. However, they acknowledge that magazines ads are also an important source of revenue. “We would like to solve the matter not by confrontation but by understanding each other’s position,” one railway official said. “Advertisers are important customers, just like our passengers.” Yomiuri Shimbun spokesman Tsunekazu Momoi also said annual ad contracts with weekly magazines constitute a significant portion of the daily’s revenues. “We expect understanding from magazine publishers,” he said. Sexually explicit banner headlines have become increasingly bold in recent years at a time when the overall publishing industry is in a slump, industry sources said. The number of public complaints, however, has been few both at railways and newspapers, although such firms have faced internal criticism. The Teito Rapid Transit Authority, which runs the Eidan subway lines, for instance, said it receives only one or two complaints regarding the advertisements every year. When the Yomiuri announced its stricter stance, however, it received hundreds of congratulatory responses from readers. “Although many people have complaints with newspapers, I guess only few dare to voice them,” Momoi said. Welcoming the “unexpectedly” quick action, especially by the newspapers, Tanaka said she believes social awareness toward women’s rights is growing rapidly. Both railway and newspaper officials said there has been a noticeable improvement in magazine ads in the past few months.

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