The resignation March 16 of Mr. Shintaro Kubo as president of Nippon Television Network Corp., who took responsibility for an erroneous news report, underlines the importance of mass media people following the basics of journalism — obtaining evidence to support remarks made by news sources. The report falsely accused the Gifu prefectural government of continuing a slush fund.

In 2006, off-the-book money of about ¥1.7 billion surfaced in the Gifu government and more than 4,000 prefectural government workers were disciplined. On Nov. 23, the NTV program “Shinso Hodo Bankisha” showed a former construction company executive from Nakatsugawa, Gifu Prefecture, saying the prefecture’s construction office still maintained a slash fund and that he had sent ¥2 million to a prefectural government worker.

After the broadcast, the prefectural government carried out an internal investigation but did not find the irregularities alleged by the man. NTV officials also held a new meeting with the man, who admitted that he had made a false statement. In the same program aired March 1, NTV explained that the statement had been concocted and that the remittance record shown by the man had been fabricated. It apologized to viewers.

The program team made the mistake of taking the man’s statement on faith and not bothering to obtain corroborating evidence. On March 9, police arrested the man on suspicion of obstructing the prefectural government’s operations with his false statement. He said he had wanted to earn extra income. Mr. Kubo denies making any payment to the man.

Mr. Kubo said there were problems not only with getting supporting evidence but also with the body of reporting in general. The Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization has set up an investigation team. NTV itself needs to conduct an internal investigation and make public the results.

False reports not only undermine the credibility of mass media but also could invite governmental interference, especially for TV stations, which operate with government-issued licenses.

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