from TOKYO Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno
Japanese Newspaper Retracts Fukushima Disaster Story and Fires Editor
TAIPEI, Taiwan — The Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-largest daily newspaper, retracted an influential report on the Fukushima nuclear disaster on Thursday after weeks of criticism from other media organizations.
The move, which included an apology, came a month after the newspaper retracted a series of stories on another hot-button issue, Japan’s wartime legacy.
“We hurt readers’ trust in our reports,” Tadakazu Kimura, Asahi Shimbun’s president and chief executive officer, 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 given by the Fukushima plant manager, Masao Yoshida, in reporting that about 650 workers disobeyed orders and fled the Fukushima Daiichi 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 that the exodus was the result of miscommunication.
Mr. Yoshida died last year of throat cancer at the age of 58. His interviews with investigators stretch over 400 pages.
Mr. Yoshida, who is regarded by many in Japan as a hero for preventing a wider disaster, had asked that the contents of his interviews not be made public. The government, however, released the text of his interview on Thursday, saying it 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 sensitive topic has also come under scrutiny in recent weeks. Last month the newspaper retracted 16 stories, the first published in September 1982, citing a Japanese Imperial Army veteran who said he had rounded up Korean women to serve as sex slaves during World War II.
Tokyo issued a formal apology in 1993 to women on the Korean Peninsula and in other places occupied by Japan during the war who were forced to work in brothels that served its military.
While most historians agree that Japan forced tens of 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.
Mr. Abe, a nationalist who has a reputation for trying 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 dispatched reporters to South Korea’s Jeju Island in April and May to corroborate Mr. Yoshida’s claims, 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 sex slaves, also known by the euphemism “comfort women.” That effort sparked criticism from China and South Korea, which say Japan has not come to terms with the brutality of its wars against its neighbors.
There is broad evidence to support the existence of wartime sex slaves, The Asahi Shimbun wrote last month in an article questioning whether the retraction of the stories 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 story was too late and didn’t go far enough, and that the newspaper should apologize. Following criticism from readers and members of its own staff, the paper reversed course and published the piece.