Communist party shows white flag over red flag

08/22/2011
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TOKYO (majirox news) — Capitalist realities have forced the Japanese Communist Party to show a white flag to its Red Flag. Akahata, which translates into English as “red flag,” is the daily and weekly newspaper of the JCP that has fallen 20 billion yen into debt (about $30 million) and has to raise subscription prices and increase readership to survive.

“Akahata is in the middle of a management crisis and there is a real danger it will have to cease publication,” Kazuo Shii, chairman of the JCP, stated at a central committee meeting in July.

While the image that many people — not least of all foreigners — may have of the Red Flag without ever reading one, is probably close to that of a frothing mouthed mad dog, it is one of Japan’s largest national and weekly newspapers. Circulation has steadily dropped since 1987, when it was at its height of nearly 2.8 million issues, according to figures published by the JCP. Like all other newspapers, it’s been hard hit by the Internet. Publication of the weekly and daily editions is now in the 1.7 million issue range. This still puts it in the league of the Asahi, Yomiuri, Mainichi and Nikkei.

The daily newspaper has been particularly hard hit. Circulation has heavily dropped. Perhaps this has to do with the more overt political content, heavily toned down in the weekly Akahata. Income is also hurt by the fact that no large companies will advertise with them and they are dependent almost entirely on subscriptions for revenue.

Subscriptions of the Akahata daily have fallen from over 600,000 copies 10 years ago to 240,000 copies in 2010. “To overcome this crisis, we have to immediately raise subscriptions 500 yen a month and recruit 20,000 new readers,” Shii said, adding, “and I don’t think this will be all that hard to do.” Since July, as well as raising subscription costs, they’ve managed so far to sign up 5,000 new readers. Party discipline does come in handy from time to time it seems.

Sales of Akahata are a life and death matter for the JCP. It’s where almost all party income comes from. According to financial records that all political parties have to submit yearly to the Japan electoral commission, of the JCP’s 214 billion yen annual income, 87% comes from sales of Akahata and books.

While the daily Akahata has almost no large advertisers and is thoroughly politicized, readers of the weekly Akahata, with almost five times as many readers could be forgiven for not realizing that it has anything to do with the JCP at all.

“The weekly Akahata is the best way I know of to keep up with changes in welfare programs, which is of great importance to my family,” said Yuko Otomo, a long time subscriber. “They have good recipes every week, and I like their crossword puzzle, too.”

The weekly Akahata comes as quite a surprise to a first time foreign reader. Anyone expecting clenched jawed workers marching towards the sunrise of the inevitable victory of the proletariat has come to the wrong place. In fact, it looks pretty much like a cross between Mother Jones and the magazines put out by European Green parties.

As well as the crossword and other puzzles, there are several pages of manga, news about TV and movie stars, recipes, a sewing corner and numerous articles with an ecological slant. There are also political articles but these are rarely doctrinaire. The most remarkable thing about the magazine and what may be the key to what keeps people reading it are scores of ads from small businesses nationwide. Cheap advertising rates fill the pages with numerous ads for economical small ryokan inns, salmon shipped directly from Hokkaido and advertisements for legal secretaries. Akahata is the only nationwide weekly magazine that offers space and rates to match to small advertisers. It is perhaps the cheapest way a small business can advertise nationwide in print in Japan.

It almost wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it Japan’s alternative lifestyle magazine.

rwhyre@majiroxnews.com

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