National / Social Issues

Osaka Prefecture city works with FamilyMart to cover up adult magazines

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

Adult magazines at FamilyMart stores in the city of Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, are being covered up in line with a program to protect the young from sexually explicit materials, a move that has drawn protests from the publishing industry.

The Sakai Municipal Government on March 16 reached an agreement with the convenience store chain to wrap green plastic around magazines that are deemed “harmful” to youths under 18 years old based on Osaka’s prefectural ordinance, and only at a limited number of stores.

Among the regulated materials are books, magazines, CDs, game software and other visual materials that contain sexually explicit or offensive content.

As of Wednesday, 11 out of some 80 FamilyMart stores in the city had begun use of the wrap, which covers about half of the front page of a magazine, according to a Sakai city official. The city hopes to expand the measure to all of the FamilyMart outlets in its jurisdiction.

The city said the move is part of an effort to stamp out violence against women and children and raise awareness of sex crimes.

The publishing industry, however, sees the program as a threat to the freedom of expression, which is protected under the Constitution.

“The magazine and book covers are the results of hard work and deep thought involving many people, including editors and designers, who are trying to convey their own editorial views,” an open letter released jointly by the Japan Magazine Publishers Association and the Japan Book Publishers Association said in mid-March.

Shigeru Motoike, head of the community affairs section in Sakai, told the Japan Times on Wednesday that the municipality’s measure does not violate anyone’s constitutional rights or represent an abuse of power by the government, as it is based on a voluntary agreement with the convenience store’s operator, which can cancel the deal at its own discretion.

The move is part of a comprehensive tie-up between the city and FamilyMart, which also covers tourism and security, he said.

Tamio Kawamata, an official with the book publishers’ association, said the city’s move is excessive, adding that it has never heard of other municipalities censoring magazine covers.

“It is also using ¥950,000 from its budget to create the wraps, which means the city is actively involved (in suppressing free expression),” Kawamata said.

He also said convenience store clerks are not necessarily knowledgeable about which titles should be regulated under the ordinance, noting that the wraps could be used to restrict the sales of adult materials that are not listed in the ordinance.