Timely award

The award of this year’s Pulitzer prize for public service to the Guardian and the Washington Post for their exposure of the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) illegal surveillance activities is timely and appropriate.

A series of reports by the two newspapers based on Edward Snowden’s leaks were the most notable journalistic enterprise of last year at a global scale to draw attention to the increasing conflict between government power and individuals’ rights in the modern world. The Pulitzer prize is the highest US award for excellence in journalism and is also a benchmark for the world. The newspapers had to also face obstacles in the publication of the reports, even though they function in societies where freedom of expression is considered to be firmly entrenched. But that did not dissuade them in their work.

Snowden’s leaks, as reported in the newspapers, showed that the NSA was snooping on the policies of other countries, activities of their leaders and the lives of private citizens to an extent never imagined before. The issues raised by such extensive intrusion into the lives of people, both US citizens and others, are still a matter of public debate.

The argument of national security interests cannot fully justify the unethical nature and illegality of such surveillance. The US society is divided on this, but the Pulitzer award is an assertion of the view that there should be clear dividing lines between state power and the rights of individuals.

The disclosures have helped to create better awareness of the issues and even led to some steps for better scrutiny of the work of the NSA and of some major technological companies which too have access to private information. The matter is relevant to countries outside the US also, as the trend of increasing state power and encroachment into the private realm of individuals is seen everywhere. To highlight this matter is an important public service.

Among this year’s  awards, the prize for poetry is of special interest to India and Bangalore because it was given to a poet of Indian origin from the city, settled in the US. Poets do not tend to be very well known even in their neighbourhood and so it is no surprise that Vijay Seshadri did not ring many bells for most Indians. But it is a matter of pride that he is among the established poets of the US and has been given an important literary honour.

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