YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — President Barack Obama pressed for greater freedoms Friday for reporters in Myanmar and China while defending the balance he said the U.S. seeks to strike at home. Although he said he couldn’t discuss the case of a U.S. journalist under pressure by prosecutors, he echoed comments from his attorney general that journalists won’t be jailed for doing their job.
Speaking after meetings with leaders in China and Myanmar, Obama said he has been “pretty blunt and pretty frank” in both countries that societies that repress journalists ultimately oppress their people as well.
“When governments censor or control information, that ultimately undermines not only the society but it leads to eventual encroachments on individual rights as well,” Obama said during a news conference in Yangon, Myanmar, with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 13 journalists have been sentenced to prison in Myanmar this year. A freelance journalist was shot and killed by Myanmar’s army after being detained while covering clashes between the army and ethnic Karen rebels in Mon state in September.
Yet Obama said he couldn’t comment about the case of New York Times reporter James Risen, whom U.S. prosecutors want to testify in a leak investigation. Prosecutors have said Risen’s testimony is integral to their case against former CIA operative Jeffrey Sterling, who they allege disclosed classified information about Iran operations to Risen.
Obama said there was an “iron-clad” rule against discussing ongoing investigations, but in general terms endorsed comments from Attorney General Eric Holder that no journalists will go to jail for doing their job.
He added that the U.S. protects press freedoms and that courts adjudicate the competing demands of national security and journalism.
“I recognize that in our own society, we have to constantly balance the need for certain national security issues to remain secret with journalists pursuing leads wherever they can,” he said.