Mr. Samejima stands with the Asahi Shimbun in the background. He asserts, “Old media that send information one way cannot win structurally.”
“I believe that the Asahi Shimbun died the day Mr. Kimura made his apology,”
Hiroshi Samejima, 50, a former Asahi Shimbun reporter, recalled in a matter-of-fact tone.
His nonfiction book, “The Asahi Shimbun’s Political Department,” which describes the decline of a major newspaper, will be published on May 27. The author, Samejima graduated from Kyoto University’s Faculty of Law and joined the Asahi Shimbun in 1994. After working in the regional bureaus, he moved to the Political Affairs Department, where he was an ace reporter, reporting numerous scoops on such figures as Naoto Kan and Heizo Takenaka. After serving as deputy chief of the Special Reporting Division, he was put in charge of the “Yoshida Report” in 2002, in which he independently obtained records of former Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Director Masao Yoshida’s response to an inquiry by the Government Accident Independent Investigation Commission.
The “Yoshida Report” was a major scoop that attracted public attention, but it was subsequently criticized by the public over the statement that the plant staff had withdrawn from the plant in violation of the orders of the plant’s director. The Asahi Shimbun was also hit with bashing over such issues as the “cancellation of the comfort women report” and the “refusal to publish the Ikegami Akira column.”
“At the time, the pressure from the Abe administration was also strong. At times, politicians and bureaucrats explicitly excluded us from their coverage, saying, ‘We won’t talk to Asahi because the prime minister’s office will stare at us.”
Backed into a corner, then-President Kimura held an apology press conference on September 11, 2002. What he announced was the cancellation of the “Yoshida Report.”
“I admit that the first report of the Yoshida Report did not score a perfect hundred points. We must accept the criticism that we defamed the staff by using the expression “violated an order” when we did not know whether all the staff members had heard Mr. Yoshida’s order. However, Mr. Kimura used the “Yoshida Report” as a personal defense and hid his responsibility for other issues. That was nothing but Kimura’s self-preservation.”
And what awaited him was the punishment of the reporters on the scene. Mr. Samejima, who had been congratulated by everyone in the company, was now a “party to a fabrication.”
“The people on the spot had repeatedly suggested that we publish a revised article,” he said. But the upper management ignored them, and placed all the responsibility on the front lines. The real problem with the “Yoshida Report” lies in the failure of crisis management.
Mr. Kimura probably wanted to win the Newspaper Publishers Association of Japan Award for the “Yoshida Report.” However, if he published a corrected article, it would jeopardize the prize. I have heard that the people around Mr. Kimura, who had become a “brown-noser,” suppressed the voices of those in the field, in order to accommodate the president’s desire to win the prize.
When reporters are punished, the field naturally shrinks. The result, according to Samejima, can be seen in the current decline of the Asahi Shimbun.
“I feel that criticism of power has weakened, and the paper has become more of a bystander’s report. The Asahi Shimbun is dead because it has disposed of its reporters on the front lines.”
Sameshima left the Asahi Shimbun in May of last year, and now works alone as the founder of an online media outlet.
“What did Asahi Shimbun lose? In the big picture, I think we lost to the Internet. By looking down on the Internet media and ignoring the criticism that abounds on the Internet, the Asahi Shimbun has fallen into a state from which it cannot recover. It was because I felt it so acutely that I decided to become a media outlet myself.”
He wrote his book, “The Asahi Shimbun Political Department,” as a summary of his 27 years in the old media. All the characters in the book have real names. The book vividly depicts the collapse of a huge organization.