The Asahi Shimbun on Friday carried front page articles and an apology concerning an erroneous article that alleged workers fled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant during the meltdown crisis in March 2011, retracting the scoop story that drew strong criticism from the public, lawmakers and government officials.
On Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga urged the country’s leading liberal daily to recover the tarnished honor of parties involved, apparently referring to plant workers at Tokyo Electric Power Co.
The front page apology followed Thursday’s news conference in which Asahi retracted a story on the Fukushima nuclear crisis and sacked Executive Editor Nobuyuki Sugiura after acknowledging the article contained a serious error — the latest to rock the major left-leaning daily.
Aside from Sugiura, who remains an executive director, Asahi President Tadakazu Kimura said he will consider whether to step down after investigating the mistake and overseeing future reforms.
The story in question stated that about 90 percent of the employees at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant defied an order from the plant’s late boss, Masao Yoshida, and fled to the nearby Fukushima No. 2 plant as the triple meltdown was unfolding.
The story, published in May, was a scoop based on leaked transcripts of confidential interviews that the government conducted with Yoshida, who gave dozens of hours of testimony to the state investigation panel in 2011.
Based on the transcripts, which at that time had only been obtained by the Asahi, and other materials, the newspaper reported that about 650 workers defied Yoshida’s order to evacuate to safer spots on the premises of the No. 1 plant and instead fled to the second plant about 10 km south to avoid the radiation.
After competing newspapers obtained the “secret” transcripts, however, reports began to emerge quoting Yoshida as saying he felt he was misunderstood, rather than disobeyed. This cast doubt on the credibility of the Asahi’s reports and sparked an internal probe.
On Thursday, Asahi officials admitted that they couldn’t find any plant worker who had heard the order given by Yoshida in March 2011 and fled to Fukushima No. 2 anyway.
The Asahi thus belatedly concluded that Yoshida’s order had not been properly delivered and that the employees did not intentionally violate it. According to the story, the workers returned hours later the same day.”We gave (readers) the impression that plant workers ran away (from the plant). We judged this to be an erroneous article,” Kimura said at a news conference at the daily’s head office in Tokyo. “We deeply apologize to readers and the people at Tokyo Electric Power Co.,” Kimura said.
The scoop shocked people around the world because it shattered the story line for the “Fukushima Fifty,” the crew that resolutely stayed behind to tame the crisis in the face of grave danger.
Rival newspapers and magazines such as the conservative Sankei Shimbun bashed the Asahi Shimbun for tarnishing the workers’ image.
None of the Asahi’s other groundbreaking stories based on Yoshida’s transcripts have yet to be called into question.
In August, the Asahi retracted 16 articles quoting Seiji Yoshida, a man who claimed to have abducted hundreds of Korean women from a Korean island and forced them into Japan’s military brothels during World War II. After in-depth checking of his accounts, historians now agree they were false.
But in August’s fact-checking articles, Asahi didn’t clearly apologize for its erroneous reports quoting Seiji Yoshida, drawing much public criticism.
During Thursday’s news conference, Kimura apologized for carrying the stories, while emphasizing, aside from Yoshida’s false accounts, many women were actually forced to work in the brothels run by the Japanese military.
“We’d like to apologize to our readers for carrying erroneous articles on Mr. Yoshida, and being so late in correcting them,” Kimura said.
Asahi officials, however, said the company has not yet punished anyone for publishing the erroneous stories quoting Seiji Yoshida.
Asahi plans to set up a third-party investigation panel on Asahi’s coverage of the comfort women issue. It will make a decision after receiving a report from that panel, Kimura said.