The recent death of 34-year-old Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, which has left everybody in a state of shock and grief, brings to light several issues. The most important one being the need for responsible journalism while dealing with sensitive incidents like suicide.
The actor, who was suffering from depression and undergoing treatment for it, had allegedly committed suicide in his apartment complex. His family, distraught over the news, have demanded a CBI investigation, suspecting murder. According to the post mortem report, released by the Bandra Police Station on June 15, stated that the reason for his death as ‘asphyxiation due to hanging’.
However, according to a Mumbai Police official, there was no suicide note found in the apartment.
Celebrities and Fans Express Condolences on Social Media
Many celebrities and politicians took to social media platforms like Twitter to express their sorrow and condolences over Sushant’s death. The list includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Sushant Singh Rajput…a bright young actor gone too soon. He excelled on TV and in films. His rise in the world of entertainment inspired many and he leaves behind several memorable performances. Shocked by his passing away. My thoughts are with his family and fans. Om Shanti.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 14, 2020
Colleagues from the industry like Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar, Mahesh Bhatt, Priyanka Chopra, and sports stars M.S. Dhoni, Shoab Malik, Sania Mirza expressed their grief as well.
Sushant 💔 💔 you said we would play tennis together one day .. you were so full of life and laughs .. spreading smiles everywhere you went.. we didn’t even know you were hurting this bad 😞 the world will miss you .. shaking while I write this .. RIP my friend
— Sania Mirza (@MirzaSania) June 14, 2020
The actor’s sudden death sparked several discussions on the issue of depression and the lack of importance given to mental health in the country.
Actress Deepika Padukone posted a message on Instagram, urging followers to communicate and reach out for help if they were facing issues. Director Mahesh Bhatt emphasized in his tweet how the society wasn’t equipped to deal with issues concerning mental health.
This monumental tragedy that has hit the nation hard with the passing of Sushant screams out just one message. When it comes to the area of mental health we are not equipped to deal with the storm that will erupt right from the ground beneath our feet. pic.twitter.com/Bk7WsKQGdY
— Mahesh Bhatt (@MaheshNBhatt) June 15, 2020
The incident also reiterates the discussion of Nepotism and how difficult it is for outsiders to make it big in the entertainment industry. Actress Kangana Ranaut who has been vocal about the issue several times in the past, posted a video on Instagram where she blamed this culture and implied that it might be a reason which urged the actor to take such a drastic step. She also states that he wasn’t mentally weak, talks about his Stanford scholarship, and how his films never got any acknowledgement, while films like Gully Boy got all the awards.
Indian Media faces flak for Irresponsible Reporting:
Media houses like Aaj Tak and ABP News received much criticism for their insensitive and borderline disrespectful reporting of Sushant’s death. Aaj Tak, one of the most popular news channels of the country, went as far as to use cheap puns to announce the actor’s death like “Sushant Zindagi ki pitch par hit-wicket Kaise Ho Gaye?” (How did Sushant get a hit-wicket in the pitch of life?) while channels like Zee news went with “Filmon ka Dhoni asal Zindagi mein out Kaise” (How did the Dhoni of the Film world ‘get out’ in real life?).
A reporter from ABP news was seen harassing the relatives of the actor by continuously asking them about the reasons behind his death, while they were visibly distraught by the whole incident. The channel also kept a watch outside the house of Sushant’s father, while he was unconscious inside. Channels like News Nation completely went overboard, by showing a picture of the actor’s body lying on his bed.
English news channels weren’t any different, though they were less impressive than their Hindi counterparts, with channels like Times Now reporting a combination of fake news and rash headline: “COVID + Depression claims life”.
Print media, usually considered the most authentic of the three media vehicles, didn’t pull through either. Respected publication Gujarat Samachar published the photo of the actors’ body on his bed, despite the Maharashtra cyber police’s warning that it was against legal guidelines and refused to accept they were in the wrong when questioned by the popular news website, News Laundry.
Grossly invasive, these incidents are proof of the kind of sensationalism that is preferred by news channels over responsible journalism and how capitalism is taking precedence over credibility in the media industry.
Many celebrities took Twitter to attacked these channels for being insensitive. Vikrant Massey bashed News Nation for their crass reporting stating they made him ‘sick in the gut’. Celebrities like Anushka Sharma, Nimrat Kaur, Farah Khan, Farhan Akhtar, and several others urged the Indian media to be respectful of the actor’s family and avoid ‘spinning stories and crass voyeurism’ while reporting such issues.
Please be respectful of Sushant’s loved ones dealing with this jolt. Spinning stories,speculating and indulging in ‘possible reasons’ is just crass voyerism. He was someone’s son,brother and friend. Be responsible and please allow grace and silence around all mourning today.
— Nimrat Kaur (@NimratOfficial) June 14, 2020
Guidelines to Report Sensitive Issues
International institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO) and national bodies like the Press Council of India (PCI) have specific guidelines when it comes to reporting incidents like suicide, while the media ignored many of which in reporting Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.
This emphasizes the need to be more mindful of the regulations issued and ensure that a news item does not violate any principles (legal or otherwise) to ensure responsible journalism is followed during such sensitive circumstances.
The guidelines issued by the Press Council of India while reporting suicides are:
“Newspapers and news agencies while reporting on suicide cases shall not:
1. Publish stories about suicide prominently and unduly repeat such stories
2. Use language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide, or presents it as a constructive solution to problems.
3. Explicitly describe the method used
4. Provide details about the site/location
5. Use sensational headlines
6. Use photographs, video footage, or social media links.”
A quick look into the WHO’s instructions for Media Professionals reporting suicide:
- “Take the opportunity to educate the public about suicide.
- Avoid language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide, or presents it as a solution to problems
- Avoid prominent placement and undue repetition of stories about suicide
- Avoid explicit description of the method used in a completed or attempted suicide
- Avoid providing detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide
- Word headlines carefully
- Exercise caution in using photographs or video footage
- Take particular care in reporting celebrity suicides
- Show due consideration for people bereaved by suicide
- Provide information about where to seek help
- Recognize that media professionals themselves may be affected by stories about suicide.”
From these recommendations, it is clear that Indian Media has much to learn when it comes to reporting suicides, with the botched-up spectacles they’ve created of celebrity deaths. Taking into account be it the recent case of Sushant Singh Rajput or other instances of the past like the animated depictions displayed by TV channels during veteran actress Sridevi’s death, which was equally inconsiderate and poorly handled.