The latest issue of Shukan Bunshun was removed from newsstands Wednesday after the Tokyo District Court ordered a temporary injunction barring the sale of the Japanese-language weekly magazine.
The flap was over an article on the divorce of Diet member Makiko Tanaka’s eldest daughter.
The injunction, likely to trigger debate on privacy vs. freedom of the press, prompted railway station kiosks nationwide to remove copies of the magazine’s March 25 edition even though it had already sold out at a number of stations during the early morning rush hours.
Several major bookstores kept selling the magazine, which was sold out in many stores amid widespread media coverage of the dispute.
Bungei Shunju Ltd., the popular weekly’s Tokyo-based publisher, lodged an objection against the injunction, issued late Tuesday by Judge Tomonao Onizawa.
A panel comprising three other judges at the court listened to what Bungei Shunju, Tanaka’s daughter and her lawyer had to say for about an hour Wednesday afternoon — but did not reach any conclusions, leaving the injunction intact.
The court is scheduled to hold another hearing Thursday.
The injunction was issued in response to a request from the lawyer of Tanaka’s daughter. The court also approved a similar request filed by the daughter’s ex-husband.
It is extremely rare for a court to issue an injunction halting publication of a magazine before it goes on sale.
The injunction stops the magazine’s “sale, free distribution or transfer to third parties” unless the article in dispute is removed. The halt applies to the publisher but not to retailers.
According to the Shukan Bunshun article, which it billed as an “exclusive,” Tanaka’s daughter married despite her parents’ fierce opposition, divorced a year later and returned to Japan from Los Angeles, where her ex-husband works.
The lawyer said the injunction request was filed because the article violates the daughter’s privacy.
Even though she has a politician and public figure for a mother, she “deserves the right to privacy, and the district court’s decision in that sense is reasonable,” the lawyer said.
Bungei Shunju official Ryuhei Uratani said, “In the article, we have given sufficient consideration to the human rights of the eldest daughter of Ms. Makiko Tanaka, but we would like to hold sincere talks over the action,” referring to the injunction.
“(The injunction) means restrictions on freedom of speech” and is “nothing but a reckless act made by one judge over a short period of time,” Uratani said.
Uratani said the publisher submitted a presale copy of the magazine to the court on Tuesday.
By the time the injunction was issued, the publisher had printed 770,000 copies and delivered most of them to newsstands and bookstores nationwide. It still had about 30,000 unshipped copies.
Reactions to the order by retail outlets varied. East Japan Kiosk Corp., which runs kiosks at East Japan Railway stations, said it issued an order Wednesday morning that copies be removed from shelves. Other JR group firms gave similar orders to their kiosks.
Other railways, including Odakyu and Tobu, removed the magazine from kiosks in their stations, while Tokyu asked an advertising agency to remove ads for the weekly inside its trains.
Teito Rapid Transit Authority, the operator of a Tokyo subway system, also removed the magazine from station kiosks. However, roughly 70 percent of the 16,000 copies delivered to subway kiosks in the morning had already been sold by the time Teito ordered their removal from the shelves, around 9:20 a.m., according to a Teito spokesman.
“The magazine was sold out as a number of early morning commuters purchased copies,” the spokesman said.
Maruzen Co., a major bookseller based in Tokyo, said it decided to refrain from selling the magazine at some of its 31 outlets nationwide. A Maruzen spokesman said it received from the publisher a fax message to the effect that the injunction does not cover retail sales.
Seven-Eleven Japan Co., a major convenience store chain, said it plans to continue selling the magazine because the injunction does not include an order to recall them.
The lawyer for Tanaka’s daughter may file damage suits against the publisher for the sale of the magazine at those bookstores and convenience stores, sources close to the family said.
The Tokyo Shimbun deleted part of the ad for Shukan Bunshun that was carried in its Wednesday morning edition, while other major newspapers carried the ads in their original form, which mentions the divorce of Tanaka’s daughter.
Meanwhile, the National Diet Library has decided to withdraw the magazine from its shelves, stating that the court’s decision means the latest edition has technically not yet been published — even though copies have been delivered to the library.
Of the nation’s 47 prefecture-run libraries, 12 plan to either ban or restrict access to the latest Shukan Bunshun issue, according to a Kyodo News survey.
Some libraries said they would prevent visitors from reading the article on Tanaka’s daughter by stapling the pages together.
Reactions from Shukan Bunshun readers were mixed.
“The article may be going too far, but I think it is acceptable,” said Toru Ogasawara, a commuter at JR Shinbashi Station in Tokyo.
Magazine publishers will have trouble carrying sensitive articles if courts issue injunctions, he said.
Nobuaki Ito, a construction worker in Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka, said he reads Shukan Bunshun every week but supported the court order. “I can understand (the magazine taking up) issues concerning the lawmaker herself, but it should not carry stories about her children.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said during his regular daily news conference in the morning that the media should respect the privacy of family members of politicians.
“The family members are independent human beings, and they are not politicians. Common sense dictates that (the media) should consider them as separate,” Fukuda said.
Tanaka, the daughter of the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, is widely known as an outspoken politician, and served as foreign minister in the first year of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration until she was ousted in 2002 following a standoff with bureaucrats.
After giving up her House of Representatives seat in 2002, Tanaka returned to the Diet in the November general election.