National

Asahi plans system to review reports, limit editorial interference

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

The president of the Asahi Shimbun on Friday expressed regret for the way the newspaper handled the retraction of some of its reports on the thousands of mostly Korean women who were coerced into Japan’s military brothels before and during the war, and said it would establish a system to review past reports.

“We sincerely regret we failed to admit our inaccurate reporting in some of our articles. . . . We failed to face up to our readership, but worked hard to make excuses to defend our standpoint,” Masataka Watanabe told a press conference in Tokyo. “Our staffers promise to work squarely to restructure the Asahi Shimbun in a profound way.”

He said whatever changes the newspaper introduces, managers will not be allowed to interfere unduly in the editorial process.

Watanabe said the company will not allow members of the management to have their opinions reflected in editorial decisions unless not doing so would seriously harm the company’s interests. It will establish rules governing management intervention so that roles are clearly defined in such an incident, he said.

Friday’s press conference followed the release Monday of a report by an independent panel that examined the left-leaning newspaper’s retractions involving the “comfort women” issue.

The panel said the daily made critical mistakes in failing to immediately withdraw articles cast into doubt when one of the sources quoted in them was discredited. This constituted a serious betrayal of its readership, it said.

The 18 articles that were retracted quoted Seiji Yoshida, a man who said he rounded up women on Jeju island, then under Japanese rule, and forced them into sexual labor. Asahi began to doubt the validity of his accounts in 1997 but didn’t retract the articles he appeared in until years later. Yoshida has since died.

The Asahi also came under harsh criticism for refusing to run one of journalist Akira Ikegami’s columns. The column in question was critical of the paper’s attitude toward the retracted articles, and the decision to spike it was later revealed to have been made by then-President Tadakazu Kimura.

The popular columnist subsequently stopped writing the column.

The panel recommended that the newspaper create a full-time, independent advisory team of non-journalists to decide when management intervention is warranted, even if it might have serious repercussions for the company.

At the press conference, Watanabe also admitted the daily had failed to take reader criticism seriously or to reflect their voices, and had neglected to correct a range of errors, not just those in the comfort women articles.

To address this, the newspaper will set up a “speech forum” where readers can voice skepticism and criticism or rebut the company’s articles. It also plans to have a team of fact-checking editors who continuously double-check points made in controversial topics, such as historical issues, even after they have gone to print.

The Asahi Shimbun said it will “reinforce efforts to communicate the big picture of the issue to the readers, in an easy-to-understand manner, by facing the reality of the comfort women.”

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