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Palagummi Sainath is India’s most highly awarded journalist, having won some 40 international and national awards for his investigative and social sector reporting. He is the Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, a 133- year-old daily with a circulation of over 1.5 million and India’s most respected English newspaper. Sainath has won, among other awards, the Ramon Magsaysay Prize in 2007 (often referred to as the ‘Asian Nobel’). He was the first Indian to win it in the Journalism and Literature category in a quarter of a century. He was also the first reporter in the world — and the only Indian so far — to win Amnesty International’s Global Human Rights Journalism Award (in 2000, the inaugural year of that prize). He has picked up the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Boerma Prize (2001), the foremost award for development journalism. And he is the first Indian (and the only one to have won the first place ) in the European Commission’s Lorenzo Natali Prize for journalism (1995).
In June 2011), the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, conferred on him its highest award — Honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt). In 2000, the leading Scandinavian publishing house, Ordfront, included one of Sainath’s reports in its volume: Best Reporting of the 20th Century. In doing so, Ordfront chose to feature his work alongside that of giants like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Studs Terkel and John Reed. His own book, Everybody Loves A Good Drought, has remained a Penguin (1996) non-fiction best-seller for years and is being used at over 100 universities in India and abroad. It is now in its 32nd printing. All Sainath’s projects have been massive in scale. A Good Drought alone, saw him traverse over 100,000 kilometres, including 5,000 km on foot. All royalties from the book go towards funding two to three prizes for rural journalists in India each year.
Within India, he has won all the major awards for which a reporter is eligible and is the only one to have won top prizes from all The Hindu’s major market competitors. That includes “Journalist of the Year” 2009, the highest award run by The Indian Express, a rival publication to the Hindu. Yet, he has also turned down some major ones, including India’s third highest civilian award which he declined because he holds that journalists should not be receiving awards from governments they cover and critique. It is also typical of him that most of his award moneys have been ploughed back into making journalism serve public interest better.
He is the only Indian journalist on whose work two international documentaries have been made. “A Tribe of his own: The Journalism of P. Sainath” (2001) by Joe Moulins of Canada picked up multiple awards in film festivals across North America. The more recent “Nero’s Guests”, a joint Indo-Finnish production looks at the ongoing agrarian crisis in India through the work of Sainath, shooting over his shoulder. It has won ten awards so far in festivals in Asia, North America, UK and Europe