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Plagiarism Scandal at Japanese News Agency Results in Penalties

May 16, 1991

TOKYO (AP) _ A plagiarism scandal at Japan’s leading news agency, Kyodo, has resulted in stiff penalties for seven top journalists and apologies to a major newspaper and Japanese readers.

Kyodo’s editor-in-chief and its managing editor both lost their titles in the shakeup, and six other senior editors were demoted or took pay cuts, the agency announced Thursday.

Senior writer, Hidetoshi Okada, 49, was fired for allegedly stealing a series of medical stories published 17 years ago in the national newspaper Asahi Shimbun, the agency said.

The 51-story health series, entitled the ″Mathematics of Bodies,″ ran for a year between April 1990 and March 1991, deputy managing editor Hiroyuki Odahashi said. The same series was earlier published almost word for word by Asahi, he said.

In keeping with the Japanese practice of collective responsibility, Kyodo’s president, Shinji Sakai, took a 10-percent pay cut for one month and managing editor Ichiro Saita was relieved of his post and docked 10 percent of his pay for one month, Odahashi said.

Yasuhiko Inukai, the managing director, gave up the title of editor-in- chief and also took a pay cut of 10 percent for one month. Sakai assumed the position of editor-in-chief, Odahashi said.

Four other senior editors also lost their titles or took pay cuts, according to Odahashi.

There was no indication that the six editors were aware that Okada’s stories had been plagiarized before the series was transmitted.

Japanese media have reported the case with little comment.

The case came to light in late April when a local newspaper that ran the Kyodo series, the Kita Nihon Shimbun, received a query from Asahi about the stories.

On Sunday, then-managing editor Saita apologized for the plagiarism:

″Kyodo News Agency takes the incident as a serious violation of journalistic standards, and is gravely reflecting on the matter.″

″We deeply apologize for our many readers, all of our subscribers and Asahi Shimbun. ... We will take maximum action to prevent the same mistake from recurring,″ said Saita.

Odahashi said Kyodo will set up a special ethics committee to ensure that such violations do not recur. It was not known if the committee would deal with other ethical issues in Japanese journalism.

In the past, Japanese news organizations have come under fire for close ties between their reporters and their sources. Many of the reporters are dispatched to press clubs, closed to non-members and enjoy special access to government officials.

Most Japanese news reports are based on information from unidentified sources.

Japan has a vibrant news industry, and papers compete heavily on major stories.

Copies supplied by Kyodo of articles from the two medical series show almost identical stories, with a few omissions and cosmetic changes in the writing. Four stories were original and the 47 others all copied, Kyodo said.

Asahi staff members said that since they do not subscribe to Kyodo’s domestic news service, they were unaware of the Kyodo series until a reader brought it to their attention. Asahi does subscribe to Kyodo’s foreign news service.

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