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 based on fabricated testimony by the late Seiji Yoshida 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 mistaken judgment made by Asahi management.

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 also made recommendations, including the need to correct preconceived notions as well as to reconfirm the importance of continuous reporting on issues over which opinions are divided.

The report pointed out that no effort was made to conduct corroborative information-gathering in the articles on Yoshida’s testimony that he forcibly took away Korean women during the war. Even after a study in South Korea by a researcher in 1992 raised doubts about the reliability of Yoshida’s 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, it only said “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 responsible for the coverage; 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 criticized the contents of that special coverage by saying: “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 with the headline, “A straightforward apology should be made for mistakes.”

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

After postponement of publication of the column, the explanation was made by Asahi both in-house and to those outside the company that no formal decision had been made on whether the serial column was being discontinued.

However, the report said, “… the decision to end (the column) was effectively made at the time (publication was postponed).”

It went on to say, “That was an interpretation of the contents of the discussions held with Ikegami overly in favor of Asahi.”

Three reports regarding the impact of comfort women coverage on the international community were appended in the report.

A report by committee members Yukio Okamoto and Shinichi Kitaoka 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.”

A separate report by Sumio Hatano said, “It cannot be said that the ‘erroneous articles’ about Yoshida by the Asahi had a major impact on South Korean media.”

In her report, Kaori Hayashi said, “Reporting on the Yoshida testimony by the Asahi as well as its coverage of the comfort women issue did not have much impact on the international community.”

The third-party committee also compiled recommendations for the Asahi. One that was addressed to reporters said, “We hope they will not shrink back but hold sufficient self-awareness about their social responsibility in order to become the driving force for promoting sound journalistic activities in Japan.”