A third-party panel that examined The Asahi Shimbun’s coverage of the “comfort women” issue criticized the many years of neglect concerning erroneous articles on testimony provided by the late Seiji Yoshida, which was a fabrication, and the delay in retracting those articles as “betraying the trust of readers.”

In a report released on Dec. 22, the committee chaired by lawyer Hideki Nakagome also pointed out that the lack of an apology when the Asahi retracted those past articles in August was a judgment made by Asahi management and that was a mistake.

In addition, it found that the postponement of publication of a column by journalist Akira Ikegami was a decision effectively made by former company President Tadakazu Kimura to refuse publication.

The report pointed out that no outside confirmation was made over Yoshida’s testimony about forcibly taking away Korean women. Even after a study in South Korea by a researcher in 1992 raised doubts about the Yoshida testimony, there were no attempts to gather information at those locations, and only a passive response of reducing the number of articles about Yoshida was made. The report said that “manner of journalism should be criticized.”

In special coverage by the Asahi in March 1997 that looked into coverage of the comfort women issue, the terminology was limited to “no confirmation has been made about the authenticity” of the Yoshida testimony. The fact that the Asahi did not correct or retract the articles and offered no apology then was described as “a fatal error.”

The report gave several reasons why the retraction of the articles did not occur until the special coverage in August 2014. The major reasons were: 1) a lack of awareness of being the party concerned in the matter; 2) insufficient handing over to successors in the workplace; 3) unclear rules for correcting and retracting articles; and 4) the failure to develop a corporate culture to allow for active in-house discussion.

The report also said the failure to sufficiently examine the reasons for the delay in retracting the articles in the August special coverage “could not be described as a sincere attitude toward readers.”

The report criticized the contents of that special coverage and said: “A posture of self-justification was prominent, and no sincere attitude of reflection was presented. That made it difficult to understand what (the Asahi) was trying to say.”

The report also found that in retracting the articles about the Yoshida testimony in the special coverage, former President Kimura opposed apologizing in the paper, and that led to the eventual decision made by Asahi executives.

The report criticized that decision by company management, saying, “There was a lack of the role of a media organization to transmit the facts as well as a perspective of squarely facing ordinary readers.”

The report pointed out that the temporary postponement of publication of the serial column by journalist Ikegami was because Kimura expressed reservations about the article’s headline, which said, “A straightforward apology should be made for mistakes.” The column was postponed because those in the news department could not resist Kimura’s opinion.

The report found “the refusal to publish was based on the decision effectively made by Kimura.”

Three reports written by four committee members regarding the impact of comfort women coverage on the international community were appended in the report.

Two reports said the Yoshida testimony “was found to have had no impact on South Korea.” One of those reports said about the articles related to comfort women coverage, “It was not possible to recognize if there was any impact on the United States, Europe and South Korea.”

On the other hand, a report by two different committee members said of Asahi’s coverage, “It, in effect, endorsed the extreme views being made in South Korea about the comfort women issue and led to even more extreme positions.”

Based on its examination, the third-party committee also made recommendations. One was a change in how notification is made to readers by establishing a new “correction section” that brought together Asahi’s response to erroneous articles.

Another was to disclose the composition and members of teams set up for special coverage in the future. Another recommendation called for creating a structure for an exchange of opinions, including in-house study groups that would also include experts with various opinions.

The committee also recommended establishing a permanent third-party body that would look into whether and to what extent company management may interfere with news coverage.

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The committee report was handed to Asahi President Masataka Watanabe by Nakagome, the chairman of the third-party committee.

Watanabe said, "We accept this report seriously and will proceed with reform."

He also indicated that he would hold a news conference on Dec. 26 to explain the Asahi's view of the committee report.

The remarks by Watanabe are as follows:

I am extremely grateful to Chairman Nakagome and the other members of the third-party committee for conducting a thorough examination of our coverage of comfort women and for submitting a detailed report.

I would like to once again express my deepest apology for the major trouble and worry caused to all those concerned through our past coverage of comfort women.

We accept the contents of the report seriously and will sincerely implement all points that require reform.

I promise to proceed with reform and with determination to reconstruct The Asahi Shimbun from its very foundation.