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The Asahi Shimbun made “grave mistakes” in publishing a story based on a confidential government interview of Masao Yoshida, the late chief of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, as senior editors didn’t thoroughly verify its content, a third-party investigation team concluded in a report released on Wednesday.

The major newspaper retracted the story Sept. 11. Billed as a scoop and based on a transcript of the interview, it said hundreds of workers fled the crippled plant in violation of Yoshida’s order to stay within the facility’s compound amid the nuclear crisis in March 2011.

The three-member Press and Human Rights Committee concluded that Yoshida’s instruction was vague and not clearly delivered to workers, so the Asahi should not have reported that the workers “violated” the order and “fled” the plant, as claimed in the article that was published on May 20.

The committee consists of Yasuo Hasebe, a professor of constitutional studies at Waseda University, former Supreme Court Justice Koji Miyagawa and former NHK Vice Chairman Yoshinori Imai.

According to the panel’s report, only two reporters were allowed to closely examine the transcript until right before the story’s publication.

Even the editor in charge that day did not read the relevant part of the transcript before the article was published because the Asahi was worried it would lose its scoop if the information was leaked, the panel concluded.

Meanwhile, several other editors raised questions about use of the terms “violated” when they were working on draft headlines and a summary of the article the day before publication. But their concerns were over-ridden, the panel said.

“The general editor, who was responsible for the overall (editing process of) the paper, and the department chief did not properly fulfill their duties and trusted the reporting team too much,” the report says.

It was posted on the Asahi’s website on Wednesday.

Yoichi Nishimura, the Asahi’s board director in charge of editing, apologized to readers and Fukushima No. 1 workers again Wednesday. He also pledged to reform the newspaper’s corporate organization so it “can conduct investigative reporting in a more systematic manner.”

“We keenly feel our responsibility for committing these grave mistakes,” Nishimura said in a message on the paper’s website.

The investigation panel examined about 60 relevant documents, interviewed 26 people, including the two reporters, and received written statements from 37 parties, according to the Asahi.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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