The Press and Human Rights Committee (PRC), a third-party entity of The Asahi Shimbun, released a report on Nov. 12 concerning articles the newspaper reported in its May 20, 2014, morning edition on the “Yoshida testimony,” which was a report on the results of interviews by the government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. of the former plant manager Masao Yoshida (now deceased).

The committee valued the acquisition of the testimony. However, it judged that it was “appropriate” for the newspaper company to have retracted the articles, saying that the contents of the coverage had serious errors and the articles lacked a fair and accurate reporting stance.

In addition, the PRC concluded that, in spite of the criticism and the doubts that expanded after the report, The Asahi Shimbun failed to quickly deal with them, having no sense of crisis, and, as a result, lost trust.

As for the front-page story, “(Workers) withdrew from the nuclear plant against the plant manager’s order,” the committee pointed out the following two points. The first was that there are no facts to make the evaluation that workers went against the manager’s order and that no news-gathering was done to support the judgment. The second was that there was no action that could be normally described with the word “withdrawal.” The headline that combined the word “withdrew” with the words “against the order” increased the negative impression.

The Yoshida testimony likened the fact that his instructions were not conveyed accurately to a “game in which verbal information is passed on from one person to the next.” It also contained the remark, “Upon further thinking, I felt that going to the 2F (Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant) was much more correct.” However, the remarks were not carried in the article. The PRC said the omission means the Asahi failed to “provide fair and accurate information to readers.”

As for the Page 2 article, “Violation of order left in the dark,” the committee said, “The story-like description concerning Mr. Yoshida’s judgment is just the conjecture of the reporter who wrote the article and is different from the testimony that Yoshida gave. The contents caused misunderstanding to readers.”

Meanwhile, the PRC valued the fact that the reporter acquired the Yoshida testimony, pressuring the government to disclose it, and revealed that there are challenges on how to deal with severe accidents at nuclear power plants. It said, “The coverage raised an important issue by clarifying the problems.”

The PRC also looked into the process of the coverage and the measures taken before and after the publication of the articles. Then, it raised a number of points, including the following. One is that only two reporters read the testimony thoroughly up until immediately before publication of the articles because they put too much priority on hiding the identity of the source of the information. Another is that though many doubts were cast on the articles and the headlines during the process to publication, they were not modified. Another is that as their superiors placed excessive trust on the team of reporters, they did not appropriately carry out their supervisory roles.

The committee suggested reviewing the functioning of the news and public affairs divisions, saying that they made light of criticism and doubts from those outside the company and made excessive protests. It demanded that the company implement reforms so that it can conduct investigative reporting, which is one of the pillars of newspaper journalism, more systematically.

In addition, the PRC pointed out that as the headline “90% of TEPCO workers defied orders, fled Fukushima plant in 2011” was carried on the Asahi Shimbun’s English news site AJW, misunderstandings also spread overseas.

Meanwhile, concerning the special article carried on the Asahi Shimbun Digital website, the committee demanded that part of its main story be corrected.

The PRC scrutinized about 60 materials, including the Yoshida testimony and internal TEPCO materials. It directly interviewed a total of 26 people, including reporters. It also received submissions of reports from 37 people.

Yoichi Nishimura, executive editor of The Asahi Shimbun, said, “From the PRC, we received strict suggestions concerning the basics of media organizations. The committee says, ‘There were aspects in which the Asahi lacked the imagination to think about the perspective of readers and the stance aiming at fair and accurate reporting.’ We are keenly feeling responsibility for having caused a serious mistake. We again deeply apologize to people at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and others concerned. We will return to the basic principle of reporting and implement measures to listen to opinions, criticisms and doubts of people outside the company and utilize them for our newspaper-making. In addition, in response to the proposal from the PRC, we will carry out reforms to more systematically implement investigative reporting in order to strengthen it. We pledge that all of our employees do their best for the recovery of trust.”