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Asahi will return to basic principles of journalism

November 13, 2014


Asahi will return to basic principle of news reporting


By YOICHI NISHIMURA/ Executive Editor, The Asahi Shimbun

The Press and Human Rights Committee (PRC) has issued a report that said regarding Asahi Shimbun coverage "there were deficiencies in using imagination to think about the perspective of readers as well as in the stance of seeking fair and accurate reporting." That is a serious point that goes to the fundamentals of a media organization.

We are keenly aware of the responsibility we must bear for causing serious errors.

The Asahi Shimbun sincerely accepts those views, and I would like to extend my deepest apology once again to everyone, beginning with those who were and are working at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which is operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Coverage of the "Yoshida testimony" was conducted as part of our investigative reporting efforts. The main focus was to transmit just how difficult it was to respond to a severe accident at a nuclear plant.

However, the first article in that coverage had at its core that "90 percent of workers withdrew in violation of the plant manager's order." For that reason, a mistaken perception was spread both in Japan and abroad.

Accurate and fair articles are the lifeline of news reporting. We cannot make a new departure without acknowledging an error as an error.

That is the thinking behind our decision made on Sept. 11 to retract the articles and to publish today the full text of the views of the PRC.

We can only close in on the truth by humbly facing the facts and accumulating those facts one by one. Facts must be separated from commentary, and imagination must be utilized in thinking about how our readers and those who are the subject of our news-gathering will feel.

We are now in the process of making efforts to deliver articles on a daily basis by returning once again to that basic principle of news-gathering and reporting.

The PRC pointed out that although many doubts were raised about the headlines and contents of the articles from within the Asahi, no revisions were made. That deficiency in sharing of information should never have occurred.

We will strive for thoroughness in mutual criticism and checking so that various voices from within the Asahi can be transmitted to those involved in the editing process.

The PRC also pointed to a misplaced sense of overconfidence as well as a lack of humility. It also touched upon the Asahi's nature to not reflect on the opinions, criticism and doubts from people outside the company as well as a lack of awareness about crisis management within the upper echelons of the company regarding the response after the matter came to light.

We have already begun various measures, such as dialogue meetings with our readers. After also considering the forthcoming results of the examination by another third-party committee into such issues as the Asahi coverage of the "comfort women" issue and the decision to hold off publication of a column by the journalist Akira Ikegami, we would like to compile as soon as possible a rehabilitation plan for the Asahi while carefully listening to the voices of those outside the company and creating a structure that will make use of such voices in producing our newspaper.

The report from the PRC valued the Asahi's obtaining the Yoshida testimony and calling for the central government to release the results of the questioning as well as shedding light on the problems that existed in dealing with the accident.

At the same time, we also received a proposal about investigative reporting that suggests it should move in a direction in which it is conducted "in a more systematic manner." We are resolved to further strengthen our investigative reporting, which is an essential role of journalism, in order to dig up hidden facts through our independent news-gathering without relying on announcements by the authorities.

Investigative reporting will not be possible without the trust in the Asahi by all of you. I pledge that all Asahi employees will make every effort to regain that trust.

By YOICHI NISHIMURA/ Executive Editor, The Asahi Shimbun




Panel finds Asahi report on Fukushima plant as having 'major errors'



TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A panel appointed by The Asahi Shimbun to review its reporting concluded on Wednesday that the newspaper's May scoop on testimony by the late chief of the disaster-hit Fukushima nuclear plant contained "major errors," endorsing the daily's retraction of the report earlier.

The major Japanese daily issued an apology to workers of Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Fukushima Prefecture and other people, and said it will take disciplinary action against those responsible for the report within this month.

Based on the then classified testimony by Masao Yoshida, who was heading the plant when the six-reactor facility was crippled by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the newspaper reported in a May 20 scoop that 90 percent of workers had withdrawn from the damaged plant by violating his order for them to stay put.

But on Sept. 11, the newspaper retracted the report after concluding that it misinterpreted the plant chief's testimony, which had been compiled for a government panel examining the Fukushima meltdowns, noting that the testimony showed Yoshida had not seen the workers' action as a violation of his order.

The daily's Press and Human Rights Committee, consisting of a university professor, a former Supreme Court justice and a former executive of public broadcaster NHK, said "no fact existed to make the evaluation that workers were 'violating plant manager order'" and that no news gathering was pursued to corroborate such an evaluation.

The panel criticized the report for lacking Yoshida's comment in the same testimony that he had felt after all that the workers were right about deciding to move to another nuclear power plant nearby that had escaped severe damage.

The omission amounted to a failure on the part of the newspaper, whose mission is to provide readers with fair and accurate information, it said.

The panel also said the report contained a conjecture by the writer who wrote it, and that only two reporters had read the testimony just before the report was published.

As to the newspaper's failure to respond to growing criticism and questions raised about the report in the following weeks and months, the panel said a "lack of a sense of crisis" led to no proper or immediate response and resulted in a loss of trust in the newspaper.

Tadakazu Kimura, president of The Asahi Shimbun, suggested at a press conference in September that he would resign from the post to take responsibility for the scandal. He has since indicated that he would announce his resignation in the middle of this month.

Yoshida's 400-page testimony was reflected in the final panel report compiled in July 2012 along with testimonies from more than 770 others. Yoshida died of esophageal cancer in July 2013 at age 58.

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