Around 20,000 of 377,000 articles uploaded on 10 health and lifestyle information websites run by DeNA Co. have plagiarism and copyright issues, the information technology firm announced Monday, disclosing the results of a three-month probe into the biggest “fake news” scandal to hit Japan so far.

A third-party investigative panel made up of four lawyers also concluded that up to 747,643 images used on the sites were copied from other websites in possible copyright violations.

In a more serious finding, 10 articles carried on the medical information site Welq possibly violated medical laws by propagating information that could cause damage to a person’s health, the panel said.

“We did not prioritize what’s most essential — providing real value to users and contributing to society,” DeNA CEO Isao Moriyasu told a news conference Monday in Tokyo. “Even though we run a media business, we lacked a sense of responsibility as a media entity and failed to deal with rights and accuracy of information properly.”

DeNA also announced Monday that Moriyasu will take a 50 percent pay cut for six months, up from the 30 percent six-month cut announced Dec. 1.

Tomoko Namba, founder and chairwoman of the company, was also appointed to head the firm’s operations as representative chairwoman, in an effort to strengthen its corporate governance under the two-leader system.

Namba said the firm has no plans at this point to resume the sites, all of which have been shut down in the wake of the scandal.

Mari Murata, an executive officer in charge of the firm’s information site businesses, will resign from that position as well as her posts as president of two companies that ran two of the 10 sites. In addition, nearly 30 other officials will be punished in line with company regulations, DeNA said.

According to the panel’s report, a detailed in-house manual had been created for outside writers recruited mainly through crowdsourcing firms. The manual instructed them how to rewrite information from other sources so they could dodge accusations of plagiarism and produce stories that would likely top search engine lists.

Faced with declining profit from cellphone games, DeNA’s core business, the company entered the so-called “curation” business in 2014 to seek new revenue sources. It acquired or set up a total of 10 information sites covering such topics as lifestyle, fashion, food, cars and health.

The firm set daily active user targets for each site, and as it increased the targets over time, it decided to value quantity over quality, but without increasing the manpower needed to achieve the article count, the investigative panel said.

The firm came under fire last year after it emerged that a slew of articles on Welq contained dubious health tips.

For example, an article recommended that people who suffered a centipede bite to “detoxify the poison with hot water.”

The firm deleted the article after a hospital official contacted Welq and said that the number of patients — including newborns — being taken to its  emergency room for aggravated poisoning and burns was on the rise, the panel said.

In another example, Welq carried a story on stiff shoulders in which “ghosts” were suggested as one possible cause of the condition.

While issues of fake news and plagiarism can be seen on other websites, DeNA’s case attracted attention as it is a well-known listed firm that also runs a pro baseball team, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

The panel concluded that DeNA’s corporate motto of “being a venture company forever” was misinterpreted by some of its managers.

“DeNA boasts being an ‘eternal venture company,’ emphasizing speedy decision-making,” the panel said in its report. “Many venture firms, not just DeNA, believe that hasty decisions are better than well thought-out but slow decisions.”

The members of the investigative panel asserted that while such a vision itself is not to blame, as it is meant to warn employees against falling into a risk-averse, indecisive corporate culture pervasive at many large companies, the message was mistakenly used to justify speed at the sacrifice of quality in DeNA’s curation businesses, leading to a lack of prudent thinking and thorough risk analysis.

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