Nothing illustrates the decay of journalistic ethics more vividly than the ongoing coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput case by a section of the media. For the uninitiated, the toxicity of the whole exercise — the invasiveness, the misogyny, the gossip and rumour masquerading as reportage — can be quite disorienting. The tragic mix has turned more combustible with politics being added to it, with an eye on the coming Assembly elections in Bihar. This has turned into a classic case of media trial with news anchors assuming the role of the judge, jury and executioner. At a time when the country is reeling under an unprecedented public health crisis with a surge in Covid cases and a collapsing economy, the media should have got its priorities right. Instead, what the country has been witnessing is a barrage of highly irresponsible reports, converting a human tragedy into an ugly spectacle of peddling hate-filled narratives. WhatsApp chats are being leaked to the studios, with various sides using the leaked content to buttress their arguments. Trial by media is the very antithesis of the rule of law and can lead to a miscarriage of justice. In this case, unverified conspiracy theories are being sold to viewers as facts. Even as the CBI is investigating the case, anchors are conducting their own parallel proceedings from the comfort of their studios. The actor’s untimely death has not only reignited the debate over rampant nepotism in Bollywood but has also brought into focus the insensitivity with which the issues of mental health are dealt with by society.
Ever since the tragic death of the Bollywood actor, there has been a whirlpool of misreported facts, concocted lies and attempts to pander to voyeuristic tendencies in the name of news. Rhea Chakraborty, the actor’s companion, has become the target of the vilification campaign. The viciousness of the sexist attacks on her on social media suggests that a scapegoat was needed to blame for the actor’s death. The actor’s father must have had reasons for filing a first information report against Chakraborty but that is a matter for police investigation and the law. Apparently, under political pressure, three central agencies have been involved now — CBI, Enforcement Directorate and Narcotics Control Bureau. The lack of clarity on the reasons that drove Sushant to take the extreme step has triggered conspiracy theories and the case has become murky with new angles emerging every day. In the midst of all the foggy details that keep pouring, the average fan of the actor is deeply saddened, enraged and confused. What could have been a debate about suicide prevention policy and a raging mental health crisis in India has turned into a public court, discussing gossip and rumours.
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