The Tale of Media Trial & TRP – From Jia Khan to Sushant Singh Rajput

The 34-year-old bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has dominated headlines since he was found dead in his apartment more than two months ago. The relentless media cycle accompanying the case has created entrenched sensationalism that distracts people from far more pressing issues.

It was only yesterday (September 4, 2020) when India crossed the mark of 4 million in total tally of COVID-19 positive people. But what caught media’s attention was Showik Chakraborty’s arrest NCB in Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case. So much so that not only was the broadcast of his arrest made live, his car was followed many media vans with cameras trying to get into the car. News channels earlier shamelessly ran provocative 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?) 

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Showik Chakraborty, Rhea’s brother, was arrested on Friday

Unfortunately, without realizing its moral responsibility, Indian media is making a mockery of a young man’s death. In the name of seeking justice for the deceased, the media has forgotten how unabashedly they are tarnishing a person’s image. 

How long has this legacy been maintained?

It is hard to judge the trajectory of such media trials. However, first such incident was noticed in death probe of Aarushi Talwar in 2008 when a minute--minute dramatisation of how Rajesh and Nupur Talwar plotted the murder of their only daughter was fixated on the television screens.

Similar to SSR’s death mystery, media probed the death of bollywood actress Jia Khan when she reportedly died after hanging herself on Monday, 3 June 2013. A similar scenario was witnessed in the aftermath of Sridevi’s death.

Has Indian media “Failed to Follow Guidelines”?

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 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.”

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Supreme Court’s caution to Media

In August 2010, the Supreme Court cautioned the media against irresponsible reporting affecting the victim’s honour. “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 questions posed advocate Surat Singh in 2008 while seeking restraint on the media while the Talwar investigation was on.

What’s the solution?

The solution, lawyer Sanjay Hegde says in a YouTube discussion, “People need to stop watching push TV and start watching pull TV and maybe that’s the only way.” Meanwhile, leading news channels will keep feeding viewers with news flashes of Rhea Chakraborty.

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