Has Japan's largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, been co-opted into a personal weapon of the Chairman?

Former Yomiuri Giants General Manager Hidetoshi Kiyotake hold a press conference Friday, November 25th , at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan to discuss legal action against the Yomiuri Shimbun group for “illegally” and “unjustly” firing him last week.  He publicly criticized group Chairman Tsuneo Watanabe for meddling in the team’s hiring affairs.

Legendary investigative journalist and fired General Manager of the Yomiuri Giants discusses compliance problems at a press conference on November 25th

The Yomiuri Newspaper (読売新聞) is the largest newspaper in the world (10,000,000 circulation) and Mr. Watanabe is the de facto ruler of the paper. He is the Rupert Murdoch of Japan, combined with the power of Richard Nixon in his prime. The Yomiuri Giants, one of Japan’s most popular baseball teams, are part of the Yomiuri Empire that includes its own amusement park, Yomiuri Land. It is wholly owned by Yomiuri Holdings, of which Watanabe is also the chairman.

Watanabe Tsuneo: Media and Power--an expose of "The Rupert Murdoch of Japan" which was highly critical of the Yomiuri Chairman

The Giants fired Kiyotake, 61, on Nov. 18, saying his actions were inappropriate because he was told not to go to the press by other executives inside the Yomiuri group and disclosed sensitive information on personnel matters.

Kiyotake’s press conference on Nov. 11 criticized Watanabe, who allegedly ignored all rules of management in place and accused him of “serious violation of compliance.”

Mr. Kiyotake noted, “I was a reporter of the social news department of the Yomiuri Shimbun. And in those days, I attacked the noncompliance of other companies and strongly criticized the leaders of the companies who violated compliance,”

“Therefore, if I had condoned this serious noncompliance that would betray the fans, players, coaches, field managers and honest employees in order to save myself, it would have been an immoral act,” said Kiyotake. He has represented the Giants in some capacity since 2004. Kiyotake was the former number two in the Yomiuri’s Social (National) News Department (社会部) which does most of the investigative journalism at the newspaper. After he was transferred to the Giants, the entire Social (National) News Department was moved from a secluded corner of the Yomiuri building into the middle of the floor, where the reporters came under the scrutiny of middle-management, essentially put on “a watch-list.”

 According to this book and other sources, Watanabe, a former political reporter, has always regarded the Social (National) News Department (社会部) with disdain since they have exposed corrupt acts by politicians he was particularly friendly with.  In many circles, it is joked that the Yomiuri was the official newspaper of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which had a stranglehold on the Japanese government for more than four decades.  (The Democratic Party of Japan ruling coalition took over in 2009 after winning the support of Japan’s largest criminal organization, the Yamaguchi-gumi and affiliates in 2007.)

 Kiyotake also told the assembled press on Friday that Watanabe tried to get him to cancel the press conference just before he was about to hold it.“By the end of our call he was threatening me by saying things like ‘You are going to ruin yourself. You are waging all-out war against the Yomiuri Shimbun,’ ” Kiyotake said in his statement.

It is an interesting threat, if true, in that it seems to indicate Chairman Watanabe sees both the newspaper and the baseball team as his personal property and suggests that he is able to and willing to use the Yomiuri Newspaper as a tool in personal vendettas. This could call into question the entire credibility of the newspaper.  The Hidetoshi Kiyotake Statement In English and 清武さんの声明文 can be read here.

*Editor’s note: Due to an inability to contact the public relations department of the Yomiuri Shimbun today, a revised version of this article will be posted later in another forum.  The author (that’s me), was a reporter at the Yomiuri Shinbun from 1993-2005 and  worked under Mr. Kiyotake as a reporter and therefore is not completely objective. From personal experience and other sources, I believe he is telling the truth. I contributed an article on recent events at the Yomiuri to a daily newspaper in the Sankei Group, Yukan Fuji (夕刊フジ), which I will translate here, if given permission. 

5 thoughts on “Has Japan's largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, been co-opted into a personal weapon of the Chairman?”

    1. I have no need or desire for revenge against the Yomiuri. They treated me very well and I had a great experience working there. However, Kiyotake was my supervisor and a mentor. I would be an ungrateful and cowardly person not to rise to his defense. He also is speaking the truth.

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