The Asahi Shimbun has been the target of unprecedented attacks in the Japanese media. The liberal daily, with a claimed circulation of around 8 million, found itself in hot water over revelations that a series of articles by the late Seiji Yoshida, a former soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army contained fabrications. The articles, which appeared in Asahi in the early 1990s, concerned alleged coercive recruitment on Korea's Cheju Island of so-called "comfort women" (a euphemism for women of various nationalities who serviced soldiers in special brothels).
Now infuriated Japanese are alleging that then-chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kohno's 1993 "Statement," an acknowledgement and apology to Korea, was mostly enabled by Yoshida's faux coverage in the Asahi. Their counterarguments claim that recruitment of the women was not coercive, that they knew in advance what the work entailed, and that they were well compensated for their labors.
In a Sept 21 news conference, Asahi president Tadakazu Kimura admitted the wrongdoing and announced that executive editor Nobuyuki Sugiura would be resigning to take responsibility.
Asahi's apology appears only to have added fuel to the fire of the ongoing campaign, spearheaded by the Sankei and Yomiuri newspapers and the weekly magazines Shukan Bunshun and Shukan Shincho, to harangue Asahi by, among other things, urging its advertisers to drop their ads and readers to cancel subscriptions.
And indications are that the campaign may be having some impact on the Asahi's bottom line.
But this approach, warns Nikkan Gendai (Sept 23), represents an "enormous miscalculation" on the part of Asahi's rivals, and explains the reason why.
"The Yomiuri has launched a one-week trial campaign aimed at exploiting the Asahi's current woes to its advantage, by use of a four-page leaflet titled 'How did the Yomiuri Shimbun verify reportage of the comfort women?' a source at the Yomiuri told Nikkan Gendai. "It also produced a 20-page booklet for distribution in the 23 Wards of Tokyo, where there are many Asahi subscribers."
"After the flyers and booklets, the third 'bomb' will be a campaign targeting the Asahi," he continues. "They will be distributing flyers in synch with the days that new (anti-Asahi) books go on sale in bookstores."
Images of the flyers have slipped out and been posted on the internet in advance of their distribution, but these have also attracted negative remarks, such as "This is just nasty and vicious" or "The deluge of all these new books is really overdoing things."
Up to now, moreover, there's scant evidence that these campaigns have had much of an impact. "Since the start of the campaign, the number of Asahi subscribers who have cancelled and switched to Yomiuri comes to less than 10%," a newspaper sales agent in Tokyo tells Nikkan Gendai. "More worrisome is that more people are taking the opportunity to quit reading newspapers altogether.
"Tokyo's 23 wards are segmented into eight sales areas. Managers from each attend two sales meetings a month at the newspaper's headquarters," he continues. "We're hearing reports like 'The more negative campaigns are held over the false reporting, more than the Asahi, the entire newspaper industry loses readers' trust' and 'This is dragging down the image of the entire newspaper industry.'"
In other words, the bashing of the Asahi is having the opposite effect of what its media adversaries have intended.
"Some people may retort, 'So does that mean the Yomiuri never makes mistakes?' the agent remarks. "And billing the agents for part of the costs of the anti-Asahi books that are being offered as incentives is unpopular. Once the current campaign is finished, I think that will probably be the end of it."
When Nikkan Gendai queried the Yomiuri on its justification for the campaign, it was informed somewhat sanctimoniously, "This newspaper is duty-bound to provide correct information, in an easy to comprehend manner, to those other than its own subscribers. In this context we believe our mission is to put newspaper journalism on the road to recovery so as to regain (readers') trust from the damage caused by Asahi's reporting on the comfort women."© Japan Today