2014 Sept 11 / New York Times reports controversial Asahi’s retraction

New York Times

Japanese Newspaper Retracts Fukushima Disaster Report and Fires Editor

By AUSTIN RAMZYSEPT.                        September 11, 2014

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-largest daily newspaper, retracted an influential news report on the Fukushima nuclear disaster on Thursday after weeks of criticism from other news organizations.

The move, which included an apology, came a month after the newspaper retracted a series of articles on another hot-button issue: the women from Korea and elsewhere who were forced by Japan to serve in military brothels during World War II. The articles used reports about the practice by one Japanese man whose particular accusations have been widely discredited.

Japan acknowledged in a landmark apology in 1993 that the women had been forced to work in the brothels.

The retractions occurred amid an outpouring of angry accusations that the newspaper had damaged Japan’s international reputation with the mistaken articles, especially those on the Imperial Army’s role in forcing so-called comfort women to serve in military brothels during World War II. The intensity of the attacks, particularly from right-wing news media and politicians, has led many to warn of a politically motivated campaign to undermine the newspaper, one of Japan’s most prominent liberal voices.

“We hurt readers’ trust in our reports,” Tadakazu Kimura, Asahi Shimbun’s president and chief executive, said at a news conference Thursday evening.

Mr. Kimura announced that he was dismissing Nobuyuki Sugiura, Asahi Shimbun’s executive editor, and would punish other editors involved in the Fukushima reporting. Mr. Kimura said he would decide whether he himself would resign after carrying out a “drastic restructuring plan.”

In May, the newspaper cited testimony by the Fukushima plant manager Masao Yoshida in reporting that about 650 workers disobeyed orders and fled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant at a critical moment during the disaster in 2011.

In recent weeks other Japanese news organizations have reported on Mr. Yoshida’s testimony. Reports from The Mainichi Shimbun, The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Sankei Shimbun, three other leading newspapers, and the Kyodo News agency portrayed his comments differently, saying the exodus was the result of miscommunication.

Mr. Yoshida, who is regarded by many in Japan as a hero for preventing a wider disaster, asked before he died last year that the contents of his interviews not be made public. The government, however, released the text of his interviews on Thursday, saying that the release was necessary to clarify the public record.

“Only a part of the record of Mr. Yoshida’s testimony has been picked up and reported by several papers,” said Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman. “His original concern that his story would develop a life of its own without verification came to be realized. We think it would lead to a result that is against his will if we don’t disclose it.”

Since the Fukushima disaster, the liberal Asahi Shimbun has campaigned against nuclear power in its editorial pages, saying it regretted its earlier support. The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun has been critical of Asahi’s coverage, saying its report on Mr. Yoshida’s testimony “caused serious misunderstandings among the international media.”

The Asahi Shimbun’s coverage of another delicate topic has also come under scrutiny in recent weeks. Last month the newspaper retracted 16 articles, the first published in September 1982, citing a Japanese Imperial Army veteran who said he had rounded up Korean women to serve as sexual slaves during World War II.

While most historians agree that Japan forced thousands of women to work in a network of wartime brothels, some have long questioned the particular evidence given by Seiji Yoshida, a soldier who later became a writer. Shinzo Abe called him a “con man” in a speech in November 2012, shortly before taking office as prime minister. (Japan did not use Mr. Yoshida’s statements in developing the country’s formal apology to the women.)

Mr. Abe, a nationalist who has vowed in the past to end what he calls a masochistic view of Japan’s history, told a radio program on Thursday that he would not comment directly on The Asahi Shimbun. But he said, “I think it is true that, by the false reporting on comfort women, for example, a lot of people have suffered, and Japan was discredited in international society,” the broadcaster NHK reported.

The Asahi Shimbun said that it sent reporters to Jeju Island in South Korea in April and May to try to corroborate Mr. Yoshida’s claims of his personal involvement in rounding up women to serve as sexual slaves, but that after interviewing about 40 people, they were unable to do so. Mr. Yoshida died in 2000 and had declined to help in previous efforts to investigate his claims, the newspaper said.

In February, Mr. Abe ordered an investigation into the government’s apology for the sexual slaves. That effort prompted criticism from China and South Korea, which say Japan has not come to terms with the brutality of its wars against its neighbors. His government has since said it would not revise the apology.

There is broad evidence to support the existence of wartime sexual slaves, The Asahi Shimbun wrote last month in an article questioning whether the retraction of the articles citing Mr. Yoshida was being used to undermine Japan’s apology on the issue.

The newspaper came under further criticism last week after it spiked a column from a well-known contributor, Akira Ikegami, who said that the paper’s retraction of the comfort women articles was too late and did not go far enough, and that the newspaper should apologize. After criticism from readers and members of its own staff, the paper reversed course and published the column.

Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno contributed reporting from Tokyo.

A version of this article appears in print on September 12, 2014, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: Japan: Newspaper Retracts Report on Fukushima Disaster and Apologizes. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe