Don't curb your reporting, lawyers tell Asahi

Group argues Fukushima No. 1 coverage contained no factual errors


As one of Japan’s most respected newspapers incurs a tumult of jeers from critics for admitting erroneous reporting, a group of prominent lawyers is rallying in its support.

On Friday they urged the Asahi Shimbun not to discipline its staff but to keep its reporting flame undimmed in a field where it stands alone as Japan’s main left-of-center daily newspaper.

“Such disciplinary actions might discourage field reporters,” said activist lawyer Taketoshi Nakayama, who headed the group. “We are concerned that such conduct would threaten freedom of the press.”

The group delivered a letter to managers at the Asahi Shimbun’s headquarters in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward, saying the articles cited as erroneous were not.

On May 20, the Asahi scooped other media by running an article on the testimony of Masao Yoshida, chief of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant, on the 2011 nuclear crisis, saying it had obtained a copy of his transcript.

The newspaper retracted the article on Sept. 11, after the board concluded it had drawn the wrong conclusions.

The Asahi said the article erroneously accused plant workers of defying Yoshida’s order by withdrawing to the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant.

This, the lawyers said, was not the case. “The contents of the article are in line with the disclosed facts and there were no factual errors requiring retraction of the entire report,” Nakayama said at a news conference after the group submitted the letter.

The Asahi’s executive editor, Yoichi Nishimura, said the paper welcomes any feedback and suggestions. He said he hoped this will help the newspaper regain credibility.

The newspaper on Friday also published comments and suggestions by a third-party panel that included lawyers, historians and journalists. The comments offered a range of criticism and suggestions on the newspaper’s coverage.

In the same issue, the Asahi suspended a monthly column by journalist Akira Ikegami published on every last Friday of the month. The paper said it is in talks with Ikegami on resuming the column in the future.

Ikegami’s column assesses press coverage of topics of the day. In August the newspaper rejected copy he submitted addressing its review of coverage in the 1980s and ’90s on the “comfort women” issue. In protest, Ikegami said he would no longer write.

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