In a controversial column by 83-year-old author Ayako Sono that appeared in the Feb. 11 issue of the Sankei Shimbun under the headline “Maintain a ‘suitable distance,'” Sono suggested that when and if Japan changes its immigration policies to accept more foreign workers, they should live in racially segregated areas.

Remarks on the article appeared in Shukan Post (March 6), Asahi Geino (March 5), Flash (March 10) and Weekly Playboy (March 9). Sono also defended her column in the Shukan Bunshun (Feb. 26).While the general tone of the responses was supportive of Sono’s right to express her opinions, Weekly Playboy went the extra mile and surveyed 100 adults between the ages of 20 and 79. When asked about her stance, 42.3 percent of respondents replied, “I can understand what she’s saying, in part.” This exceeded the 36.6 percent who responded, “It’s understandable for her to be criticized” and 21 percent who saw no problem with the column’s contents.

The magazine also asked the participants if they agreed that foreign blue-collar workers should be admitted in greater numbers to cope with labor shortages. As opposed to 7.8 percent who said they agreed and 27.5 percent who agreed to some extent, 41.8 percent were opposed to some extent, and 22.8 percent were opposed outright.

Interestingly, the age segment that most strongly opposed the acceptance of foreign workers for nursing care services (and the only segment that provided a majority response) was respondents in their 30s, 53 percent of whom said they’d prefer to avoid non-Japanese nurses. From its in-house survey results — the rather small number of subjects notwithstanding — Weekly Playboy concludes that the Japanese still have a deeply rooted “allergy to foreigners.”

I happened to purchase the Sankei Shimbun of Feb. 11, but did not get around to reading Sono’s column on page 7 until after it was covered on the front page of The Japan Times two days later.

From Sunday, Feb. 15, the Sankei’s front page then began a series featuring testimony from a 98-year-old former noncommissioned officer in the Imperial Japanese Army named Kosen Jo, who claimed that while serving in Nanking, China, in December 1937, he had witnessed no atrocities. This was followed over the next several days by additional testimony from other war veterans that essentially negated the claims of the Nanking Massacre presented to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (1946-48).

I was struck by the irony that an op-ed by a freelancer buried on page 7 could generate so much controversy, while hardly any media chose to comment on four consecutive front-page denials of a major historical event.

To understand how something that occurred 78 years ago would push more current news topics off Sankei’s front page for several days running, one need look no further than the title of its ongoing series: rekishi-sen (the battle over history).

Since last year, more publications have been jumping on the conservative bandwagon with inflammatory content that reflects rising kenkan-zōchū (dislike Korea, hate China) sentiments, which some magazine publishers justify merely on the grounds that they’ve sold well. Perhaps they have, but clearly not well enough to reverse the ongoing decline in sales.

The March 2015 issue of Tsukuru, a monthly magazine that specializes in covering the mass media, tracked Audit Bureau of Circulation figures between the second half of 2010 and the first half of 2014 for a number of nationally circulated magazines that are frequently sourced for this column. These figures, without exception, indicate a decline in sales that would appear to be continuing irrespective of the magazines’ targeted age demographic or political slant.

For the periodicals below (all weeklies with the exception of the monthly Sapio), the first figure gives the number of copies per issue sold in the second half of 2010; the second figure, in the first half of 2014).

Shukan Bunshun: 482,436 >> 450,383
Shukan Gendai: 401,049 >> 312,521
Shukan Shincho: 392,027 >> 329,415
Shukan Post: 310,193 >> 278,904
Weekly Playboy: 169,856 >> 117,879
Shukan Asahi Geino: 107,863 >> 97,584
Spa!: 82,637 >> 65,735
Sapio: 71,574 >> 67,177

Three weekly magazines shown below, published by major newspapers, are treated by some as a separate genre; the latter three target female readers.

Shukan Asahi: 151,042 >> 110,561
Sunday Mainichi: 68,342 >> 61,062
Aera: 93,782 >> 67,839
Shukan Josei: 168,785 >> 126,462
Josei Jishin: 252,699 >> 215,540
Josei Seven: 271,729 >> 220,404

Tsukuru pointed out that the declines may be related in part to the media sales infrastructure, as the number of bookshops nationwide continues to drop — from 22,296 in 1999 to 13,943 last year.

Unprofitability of so-called general readership magazines has led to more of them suspending publication, which in turn has reduced the outlets for nonfiction articles. As a result, writers have fallen on hard times and more are abandoning their chosen profession.

Can the media malaise be blamed at least in part on declining credibility? Writing in Nikkan Gendai (Feb. 21), former diplomat Ukeru Magosaki noted that in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index for 2015, Japan fell two points, from 59th place to 61st.

In 2012, it had been ranked 22nd, but dropped to 53rd place the following year, and fell a further six points, to 59th place, in 2014 — due chiefly to lack of transparency in coverage of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. Magosaki neglected to mention that factor behind the two larger drops, instead choosing to single out the enactment of the state secrets law — officially the “Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets” — that went into force in December. (By last year’s end, 382 documents had been so designated.)

The nation’s mainstream newspapers and TV networks, accused Magosaki, “have become mouthpieces for the Abe government, along lines similar to the former Soviet Union’s Communist Party organ, Pravda.”

With a policy of mandatory subscriptions for state-run companies, however, at least Pravda didn’t have to worry about circulation numbers.

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