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Asahi Shimbun President Masataka Watanabe (original Photo, Asahi Shimbun, illustration by iMediaEthics )

Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun is starting a public editor position to handle reader complaints and reactions, the paper announced Jan. 5.

That move is part of the newspaper’s reaction to its controversy-filled 2014, in which it was the subject of three high-profile ethical lapses.

  1. As iMediaEthics wrote this fall, The Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-largest circulation newspaper, admitted that at least 16 stories it published since 1982 were false. The stories were based on writer Seiji Yoshida’s claims he kidnapped 200 women during World War II to serve as “comfort women,” as sex slaves in brothels for Japanese soldiers.
  2. Along with that apology, the newspaper fessed up to faking a 2012 interview with Nintendo’s president.
  3. The newspaper also confessed to having misinterpreted documents leading it to falsely reporting that Fukishima nuclear plant workers disobeyed orders to flee the plant.

According to Japanese news site Mainichi, the public editor role will investigate reader complaints.

The Asahi Shimbun promises it will also organize all of its corrections in one place, engage with readers better, and expand its investigations.

Asahi Shimbun president Masataka Watanbe said in a Jan. 5 press conference, “We will deeply take to heart the criticism that we lacked humility toward facts and truth and held an insufficient posture of lending an ear to criticism from society.”

He added that the newspaper established a “Committee for Restoration of Trust and Resuscitation” to help it reform.  “We also obtained the advice of experts from outside the Asahi so that we did not become ensnared in an inward-looking and narrow perspective,” he said.

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He added that the newspaper plans to publish more “diverse perspectives” in its reporting so it doesn’t just publish its own point of view, something Watanbe said the paper was criticized for.

The Asahi Shimbun also said it would start publishing Aira Ikegami’s columns again.

Back in the summer, Ikegami criticized the newspaper for its insufficient apologies for shoddy reporting on comfort women. As a result, the newspaper stopped publishing his column. The paper then issued an apology. And now, the Asahi Shimbun will run his columns effective Jan. 30.

iMediaEthics has written to The Asahi Shimbun for comment.

In addition to the news of the public editor role, the Japan Times noted that “more than 10,000 people are suing” the paper over the reports on comfort women, calling for both money and a paid advertisement apologizing.  “According to the suit filed with the Tokyo District Court, the plaintiffs, including researchers, journalists and lawmakers, are demanding ¥10,000 in compensation to each person, arguing that the newspaper “damaged Japanese people’s personal rights and honor,” the Japan Times reported.

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Japan newspaper Asahi Shimbun hiring Public Editor after 3 Scandals, Law Suits

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