"What's the price of libel?"

The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan’s Number 1 Shimbun (as the media club’s magazine is called) relays insightful articles on Japan’s media industry—both Japanese and foreign. This month features an interview with Kiyoshi Hayakawa, Editor-in-Chief of Shukan Shincho, a weekly magazine specializing in muckraking journalism.

According to the interview, the Shukan Shincho has “bucked the trend of falling magazine sales (a 40% slump over the last 10 years for the top for weeklies)” and has now become a close second to Japan’s number one selling weekly, the Shukan Bunshun.

The reason given for this, according to the interview, is because the Shukan Shincho have continued to struggle through with hard-hitting journalism whilst other magazines “flinch in the face of numerous and expensive libel cases.” Hayakawa (the Editor-in-Chief) says that his magazine is currently facing “probably more than 10” litigation cases right now and “if we are always afraid of litigation, what’s the point?”

Hayakawa, is for obvious reasons, critical of the tightening of Japan’s libel law and hike in damage payments. Like other countries, Japan has increased awareness on privacy and libel laws, a move which can be seen to protect citizen rights but also works as a way of state controlling the media. For a scandal-loving magazine like the Shukan Shincho, even though they are surviving in the face of numerous libel action law-suits, how long will it be before they eventually run out of funds and energy to fight for what they call “freedom of speech?” With damage payments reaching the region of ¥1,000,000, can any magazine afford to continuously take this risk?

Hayakawa believes so. He claims that the increase in sales, as opposed to the decreases for other magazines who have given up muckraking, are because the Shukan Shincho continues to pursue scandal stories. It remains to be seen whether the Japanese people will continue to pay for the investigative stories and the risks will continue to outweigh the profits—big ad agencies can pull the plug on media organizations that bad mouth their clients and the profitability of a subscription model in the age of Google is questionable to say the least.

The Number 1 Shimbun: http://www.fccj.or.jp/~fccjyod2/node/3365

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Anna, thanks for an interesting blog. But isn't only 1 million yen for a libel settlement cheap? That's only about 10k US and even if they lost all 10 libel cases thats only 100k US they would need to fork out. Can you check this number please?