2016: The Asahi Shimbun's Foiled Foray

Asia-Pacific Journal Japan Focus, Volume 14 | Issue 24 | Number 4
December 2016
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus

The Asahi Shimbun’s Foiled Foray into Watchdog Journalism

Martin Fackler

"In Japan’s public disillusionment following the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the Asahi Shimbun, the nation’s second-largest daily and the “quality paper” favored by intellectuals, launched a bold experiment to regain readers’ trust.

On the sixth floor of its hulking headquarters overlooking Tokyo’s celebrated fish market, the newspaper gathered 30 hand-picked journalists to create a desk dedicated to investigative reporting, something relatively rare in a country whose big national media favor cozy ties with officials via the so-called press clubs. The choice to head the new section was also unusual: Yorimitsu Takaaki was a gruff, gravely voiced outsider who was not a career employee of the elitist Asahi but had been head-hunted from a smaller regional newspaper for his investigative prowess.

Yorimitsu set an iconoclastic tone by taping a sign to the newsroom door declaring Datsu Pochi Sengen, or “No More Pooches Proclamation” — a vow that his reporters would no longer be kept pets of the press clubs, but true journalistic watchdogs.

The prosaically named Investigative Reporting Section proved an instant success, winning Japan’s top journalism award two years in a row for its exposure of official coverups and shoddy decontamination work around the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was crippled on March 11, 2011 when a huge earthquake and tsunami knocked out vital cooling systems. The new section’s feistier journalism also offered hope of attracting younger readers at a time when the then 7 million-reader Asahi and Japan’s other national dailies, the world’s largest newspapers by circulation, were starting to feel the pinch from declining sales.

“The Asahi Shimbun believes such investigative reporting is indispensable,” the newspaper’s president at the time, Kimura Tadakazu, declared in an annual reportin 2012. The new investigative section “does not rely on information obtained from press clubs, but rather conducts its own steadfast investigations that require real determination.”1

This made it seem all the more jarring when, just two years later, the Asahi abruptly retreated from this foray into watchdog reporting. In September 2014, the newspaper retracted a major investigative story that it had published in May about workers fleeing the Fukushima plant against orders. .... "

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