The jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller for refusing to divulge the name of a source in an investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's name was criticized by Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian yesterday.
Speaking at a conference hosted by the International Federation of Journalists in Taipei, Chen expressed regret over the fate of the Times reporter.
Chen said, "Given [Miller's jailing] for refusing to reveal her source, it is regrettable that the U.S. government seems to have not fully implemented freedom of the press, as guaranteed by the First Amendment."
According to the Taipei Times, Chen also said he looks forward to the day when Taiwan enjoys the same level of press freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Noting that with the lifting of martial law in 1987 and the removal of a ban on political parties and press restrictions, the holding of direct presidential elections in 1996 and the transfer of power in 2000, Chen said that in his own country the media have played the role of "catalyst and watchdog" in Taiwan's transformation to a democratic system.
He added that given the choice between national security and press freedom, he would choose a free press over security issues, but acknowledged that not everyone would agree with this view.
Freedom of the press, Chen said, is an indispensable link to the development of democracy, and he called on the Taiwanese people to respect the press and for press freedoms to be protected by law.
In an annual survey released by U.S.-based Freedom House on May 3, Chen said Taiwan was ranked 44th in terms of its press freedom among the 194 countries surveyed, up six notches from last year.
He pledged that the government will not be complacent about press freedom, saying that "there is always room for improvement for Taiwan. I'm confident that Taiwan's performance will be better and better year after year."
According to Chen, before entering politics he worked in the media and acted as a human rights lawyer for a group of local publishers during the martial-law era.
Chen has long been a champion of both democracy and independence for Taiwan.
In the 1980s he participated in the launch of a magazine critical of the government and was later jailed for eight months for libel.
"Because I've experienced in person the suppression of press freedom, I deeply realize that the efforts to safeguard press freedom should be excessive [rather] than insufficient," Chen said.
"Even if the safeguarding of press freedom is in conflict with national security, I would sacrifice national security to safeguard 100-percent press freedom," he added.