Weekly magazine needs better standards
Shukan Shincho, the weekly magazine that carried a series of articles in the form of first-person accounts from a man who claimed to have attacked reporters at The Asahi Shimbun's Hanshin Bureau in 1987, has published an article explaining how the magazine gathered materials for the articles, which have been found to be false.
In an article in the latest issue, which came out Thursday, the magazine appeared to be playing the victim, implying it was duped by the man. An explanation such as this is a far cry from being a thorough investigation of the matter.
After the series of articles was published, the man denied he was responsible for the fatal shooting when he was interviewed by another weekly magazine.
As a matter of course, Shukan Shincho then had to admit the man's account was false and apologize for the articles. But Shinchosha Publishing Co., which puts out the weekly magazine, should not leave the matter solely with the editorial staff of the magazine. The publisher should thoroughly examine the cause and background of the misreporting through an investigative panel that includes third-party members and find exactly where responsibility lies.
In the apology, the weekly magazine cited the failure to gather sufficient evidence to support the man's account as the reason why it ended up running false reports. This certainly seems to be the case. It also appears that much could have been verified with just a little bit of time and effort on such matters as where and how the man lived at the time of the incident.
Particular caution is needed when someone approaches a media organization in an attempt to sell information. It is likely that the weekly's slackness in its principal task of confirming information resulted in its swallowing of the man's false story.
The treatment given by the weekly to the man, which can be described as excessive, also should not be overlooked.
The man was given 900,000 yen in "manuscript expenses" as well as accommodation fees for three months. The weekly also shouldered a one-month advance payment for staying at an Internet cafe, which was necessary for the man to get a resident's registration, and helped the man find an apartment and obtain a passport.
Such cushy treatment could cause informants to tailor their stories for reporters by misrepresenting facts. This point should be investigated as well.
Explanation came too late
Also, the weekly has been too slow in providing a full account of the series of articles.
The articles were carried over four consecutive weeks beginning from late January.
Soon after the final installment was published, the Asahi carried a story on factual errors in the Shukan Shincho articles following a complaint by a former employee at the U.S. Embassy in Japan that the man had falsely said the employee asked him to attack the newspaper bureau.
The National Police Agency chief also in effect denied the credibility of the man's account.
Despite these developments, why did the weekly take so long to explain itself?
While the weekly is known for having exposed scandals involving politicians, it also has been accused in a number of cases of infringing on people's rights or of defamation.
In the latest article, the weekly argues that "weekly magazines have a mission to report in depth even 'events' and 'allegations' that have yet to be proved as truth." This kind of perception most likely caused the misreporting.
Recently, a series of court rulings have been made regarding slack reporting for articles in weekly magazines and have ordered publishers to pay huge amounts in compensation.
Shukan Shincho has lost several such court cases. In one of the cases, a district court ordered the president of the publisher to pay compensation, saying the president failed to effectively provide training for editors and establish systems to check articles before publication. The publisher must address these structural problems.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 17, 2009)