National

New Asahi Shimbun chief promises to restore public trust in daily

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The Asahi Shimbun’s new president vowed Friday to rebuild domestic and international trust in the beleaguered paper by broadening the range of views expressed in its pages, correcting erroneous information in a timely manner and being more careful with investigative stories.

Masataka Watanabe, 55, formally assumed his new post as president Friday, taking over from Tadakazu Kimura, who stepped down to take responsibility for errant reporting based on the transcript of a government interview with Masao Yoshida, the late head of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Shinya Iida was tapped as the paper’s new chairman.

In a May expose, the Asahi mistakenly reported that plant employees defied Yoshida’s orders by fleeing during the triple meltdown of March 11, 2011. It was forced to retract the story in September.

At about the same time, in August, the Asahi retracted 16 articles from the 1980s and 1990s about the “ianfu,” or “comfort women.”

The comfort women articles were based on interviews with Seiji Yoshida, a man who died in 2000 after claiming to have rounded up hundreds of the Korean women who were sent to the Imperial Japanese military’s wartime brothels.

Since Yoshida’s claims could not be verified by many mainstream scholars, they had become suspect by the late 1990s. The Asahi stood by the story until August.

“We’re getting back to basics, and are going to work toward the day when we are judged as a newspaper that is fair, open, humble, and promptly corrects its mistakes,” Watanabe told reporters Friday night.

An outside group of lawyers and media experts is investigating the Asahi’s reporting methods and is expected to issue its report within a month.

Watanabe announced five measures the paper would take to re-establish trust: hold roundtable meetings with voters throughout the country; expand the variety of opinions expressed in the paper and deepen the dialogue with readers; fundamentally restructure the way the paper corrects false information; maintain an attitude of healthy criticism; and strengthen investigative journalism efforts.

The retraction of the comfort women articles in particular unleashed a storm of criticism against the Asahi from the right-wing media. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe blamed the comfort women articles for creating a false impression internationally of the issue.

But four American experts involved in drawing up a 2007 resolution, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, calling for Japan to acknowledge and apologize for its responsibility for “its Imperial Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery” said Yoshida’s testimony had very little impact on the issue.

“The Yoshida memoir and Asahi’s reporting of it were not factors in the consideration, drafting, or defense of (the House resolution). One discredited source would not form the basis of research for Congress. There was ample documentary and testimonial evidence from across the Indo-Pacific region to support the fact that Imperial Japan organized and managed a system of sexual slavery for its military as well as for its colonial officials, businessmen and overseas workers,” said Washington-based Dennis Halpin of U.S.-Korea Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Mindy Kotler of Asia Policy Point, Mike Mochizuki of George Washington University, and Larry Niksch at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a joint statement issued in September.