SSR Case – A Media Circus

Sushant Singh Rajput and Rhea Chakraborty

On June 14, Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his Bandra apartment. The same week, Rajput’s father filed a case against co-actor Rhea Chakraborty, accusing her of abetment in his alleged suicide. Rajput’s sister even claimed that Chakraborty, his partner at that time, of practicing black magic.

This was by followed a maelstorm of misreported facts, concocted lies, and sheer entertainment in the name of news. News channels shamelessly ran provocative and derogatory headlines like “Sushant par Rhea ka kaala jaadu” (Rhea’s black magic on Sushant) and “Rhea ke jhooth par kya kehta hai India?” (What does India have to say about Rhea’s lies?) The first code of conduct was broken soon after graphic details about his alleged suicide were discussed like dinner-table gossip.

Dr Soumitra Pathare, the director of the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy at the Indian Law Society, said, “Media needs to improve its reporting of suicides and attempted suicides in India. We have seen that the media fails to adhere to both the international guidelines for suicide reporting (WHO guidelines) as well as national guidelines from the Press Council of India. Research has shown that responsible media reporting of suicides can reduce suicides by 1-2%. That would mean a saving 2,500-5,000 lives each year.The media needs to use the opportunity to raise awareness about suicide prevention, rather than focus on sensationalising suicide deaths.”

While the Mumbai police was investigating the actor’s death, TV channels were busy running parallel investigations in newsrooms. From reading his personal diary to calling a ‘paranormal expert’ who spoke with his spirit, every week a new narrative was served fresh to equally hungry audiences. First, they vilified the “Bollywood mafia” for plotting against him, then they added an underworld connection to it. But it got worse once the case was transferred to the CBI, the moment which republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami famously referred to as “an incredible moment in our country’s history”. On the same day, the Supreme Court had rejected the plea of students to postpone JEE and NEET exams, saying that “life has to go on”.

From sexist to origin-based slurs, Rhea was subjected to widespread social media hate campaign fuelled by these media channels. They have a tendency to use question marks to rid themselves of making verified claims. For example, saying “Sushant ko Rhea ke jeher ne mara?” or “Riya ne Sushant par kia jaadu tona?” is like saying: “Have the media channels sold their soul to gain more TRPs?” I’m totally not suggesting they have.

More than a decade ago, SMSs did the same job. While the investigation of the Aarushi-Hemraj double murder case was on, media channels were busy asking viewers to send SMSs guessing who the murderer was.

Chakraborty has filed a case with the apex court, saying the ‘media trial’ was attempting to pronounce her guilty of Sushant’s death.“Can freedom of press be allowed to degenerate into a license to malign the character of a dead person? Does our Constitution not guarantee the right to privacy even to the dead?” these were some questiones posed by advocate Surat Singh in 2008 while seeking a restraint on the media while the Talwar investigation was on.The media hasn’t learned any lessons and is showing once again how deaths must not be reported. The real question for any responsible media outlet would be to ask how did news anchors get access to confidential call records, bank statements, WhatsApp messages and post-mortem reports.

Media channels and outlets need to focus more on the actual aspects of the case and other incidents which are equally and maybe far more important to make it to the headlines than dramatise a suicide case disrespecting the deceased and the alive.

It’s high time media outlets need to be more rational and ethical while reporting instead of diverting the limelight in the name of ‘nations emotions are related to this’.