Sushant Singh Rajput’s untimely demise seemed to have sent shockwaves across the nation. It left the nation in shock, misery and anguish. In his Bandra residence the actor committed suicide. The actor seemed to have been suffering from clinical depression. He was being treated for his medical condition for a few months prior to his demise. With this, there began several talks on the media and the internet. The topics ranged from nepotism in Bollywood to the actor’s personal life. It even included talks on the actor’s mental health. With all these talks doing rounds, what actually caught everyone’s attention was the way the death was reported by the news channels. From safeguarding the dignity of the deceased, the privacy of the family members to the legal aspects of reporting mental health issues, a lot of things came to be under risk.
How did the Indian media report the death?
The Indian media seemed to be an all-time low in their content while reporting the actor’s death. They tried to include needless details like the colour around his neck while some other news channels harassed his relatives to know their opinion about the incident.
This wasn’t the first instance of the media being insensitive in reporting a celebrity death. Following Sridevi’s passing in 2018, the media recreated the death by showcasing her drowning in a virtual bathtub. A similar fashion of insensitivity was invoked while reporting Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.
Aaj tak was one among the first channels to reach the actor’s hometown. The news anchor kept pestering the actor’s relative to comment on the incident. The news channel kept shoving the mic at the actor’s father. It was pretty evident that the actor’s father was in grief and trauma and could not give his comments on the passing of his son. But to no heed, the news channel kept pestering him further. This was seen as an insensitive act on the part of the news channel and it drew a lot of criticism for the same.
Aaj take even went a step ahead and tried to analyze the actor’s Instagram post to find out the cause behind his death. While doing so, there was exaggerated music being played in the background. And many rhyming taglines kept flashing the screen which stated- “Sushant itne ashant kaise” (How can Sushant be so restless?). It was also alleged that Aaj tak’s coverage was a reference from C-grade movies.
Gujarat Samachar, one of the oldest newspapers was also the talk of the town following the actor’s demise. Gujarat Samachar published a rather disturbing picture of the late actor’s body on its front page. This was despite the guidelines issued by the Maharashtra police. The police had stated that anyone circulating pictures of the late actor’s body would await legal action. Paying no heed to such an order, the Gujarat Samachar seemed to have published the picture.
When the same was questioned by Newslaundry, the managing director of Gujarat Samachar stated that they were undeniably correct in whatever they published. They stated that there exists a change of opinion among the readers. And that’s why it drew criticism from some while others accepted it.
With so much going around, things just seemed to have gotten worse with News Nation displaying the actor’s body on its channel. The same pictures were even circulated on Whatsapp. This seemed to be rather disturbing. So much so that actor Vikrant Massey even called out the channel addressing it’s appalling coverage.
Besides all this, the channel even felt free to venture the actor’s personal life and his relationships. While reporting the news it went on to state ‘Love Khichdi was cooked here’. This again drew a lot of criticism from the media and the public.
Following the same fashion as fellow news agencies, ABP news reached the actor’s residence. Other news agencies were trying to get the comments of the family members on the incident. ABP News continued to keep watch outside the room where the actor’s father seemed to be resting after he allegedly fell unconscious. They further kept pressing the actor’s relatives when they clearly did not seem to be in a position to talk to the media.
WHO’s guidelines for reporting suicide
The WHO guidelines on reporting suicide speak about things ranging from how a piece of information concerning mental issues should be reported. It further plays restriction on various other aspects if there has been a death resulted following the mental health issues. The WHO asked the media to pay special attention while reporting a celebrity. As there is a dire need to be cautious. It urges the media to do away with speculations. Not to provide intricate details of the happening. It also impulses the media to be extremely sensitive in terms of usage of the language while reporting suicide. There also exist various restrictions when it comes to the usage of photographs. The media is also required to refrain from language that engages in sensationalizing suicides.
Speaking about the incident, Dr Anjali Chhabria stated the following; she urged the media that every story of suicide ought to be accompanied by solutions. And at the same time, suicide helpline numbers should be displayed on television screens.
The Press Council of India and its guidelines
Considering the Indian scenario, The Press Council of India has a separate set of guidelines for reporting suicides. These guidelines have been adopted from the WHO. Using sensitive language is one of the most important aspects here. This is because the reportage of the media seems to have an immediate effect on the audience. The Mental Health Organisation has also urged the media to use phrases like that of “died by suicide” or “death by suicide”. And most importantly it states that the circumstances which led to such a happening must be ignored. No speculations should be made about the circumstances surrounding such instances. The organisation also urges not to use any kind of unethical language.
But on the flip side, such guidelines are often ignored by the Indian media. Exception for a few media houses, the rest went behind the story once the news broke out on the afternoon of 14th June 2020. The actor’s Instagram posts were being analyzed in order to find a clue behind his suicide. There were various speculations made by the media houses about whether the actor had financial constraints. There were attempts made to figure out the reason behind his depression.
The future course of action: What do Indian media have to learn from the incident?
The India media is quite not known for being sensitive on its part especially in terms of covering issues like these. The media seems to make a great deal about making a whole mess out of an incident. There have been instances whereby legal action has been taken up. But it ended by not being an appropriate solution in addressing the issue. The media continue to ignore the guidelines which should strictly be adhered to.
This calls for a robust system in place, which regulates the media reportage. Sensitive issue involving suicide or mental health issues needs to be dealt with utmost care and caution. Importance should be given to the privacy of the deceased. The family members, friends and acquaintances should not be charged with questions. They should be given space. Circulation of disturbing pictures of the deceased should be condemned. These regulations need to strictly incorporated by the media houses. This would prove to be a good lesson learnt in the wake of the recent incident. And all the controversy that erupted because of the way the death was reported can also be addressed.