‘Hit-Wicket’ & ‘Patna Fail’ - How Indian Media Failed Sushant
Indian media received flak for its coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.
(Trigger Warning: Suicide)
On 14 June, the news of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s sudden death by suicide shocked the country. The 34-year-old actor, last seen in Chhichhore, had been found dead by the Mumbai police at his residence in Bandra.
Social media, WhatsApp, news websites, TV channels... the news was everywhere. As is the nature of ‘news’, COVID-19 was temporarily put on the back burner, and Sushant’s death was being widely reported. Except, there wasn’t much to ‘widely’ report and that’s exactly where the Indian media grossly faltered.
Soon after the news of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death spread like wildfire, netizens took to Twitter to point out a basic flaw in the language being used. Apparently, some media outlets were using the words ‘committed suicide’, instead of ‘died by suicide.’
On the surface, both the phrases might seem harmlessly interchangeable but the difference in both their implications is vast. ‘Committed suicide’ has criminal undertones and is a direct product of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which, until very recently, considered failed suicide attempts a criminal activity. The Mental Health Care Act 2017 repealed Section 309 of the IPC.
Not to forget the fact that suicide and mental illnesses have a lot of stigmas attached to them and such irresponsible coverage only adds to that phenomenon.
The sensational TV headlines that cropped up in the aftermath of Sushant’s death were even more disappointing.
One particular media outlet, Aaj Tak, as pointed out by many users on social media, used extremely insensitive headlines like this one that employed a distasteful cricket pun: “Aise kaise ‘hit-wicket’ ho gaye Sushant? (How did Sushant get hit-wicket?)”
Zee News, another Indian media channel, used a similarly offensive headline that read: “Patna ka Sushant Mumbai mein fail kyu? (Why did Patna’s Sushant fail in Mumbai)”
These headlines are not just tone-deaf, they’re also highly disrespectful and prove something we already know about the Indian television media - their chase for eyeballs and TRPs. And this isn’t something previously unheard of. In 2018, the Indian media was accused of irresponsible reportage of late Bollywood actor Sridevi’s death as well.
Clearly, a lot of these mainstream media outlets care very little about respecting the deceased but what about those who are still alive? Do they not deserve to mourn in peace?
Soon after the news of Sushant’s death was confirmed, Aaj Tak reporters headed straight to Sushant’s parents’ house in Patna and started interviewing his father on camera. Sushant’s family was visibly grieving, his father was SOBBING, but these so-called journalists showed zero empathy.
Moreover, the footage of Sushant’s father crying was packaged like it was part of some tragic Indian soap. WTF???
(Watch from 2.44)
Here’s another video of Ankita Lokhande, Sushant’s Pavitra Rishta co-star, at the actor’s funeral. In the video, Lokhande is clearly uncomfortable by the paparazzi's invasion of her personal space.
Circulation of Graphic Content
Amid the chaos, there were some disturbing photos of the deceased actor also being circulated on the internet, with some media outlets actually carrying the images sans any trigger warnings. Filmmaker Anubhav Sinha even took to Twitter to ask people to not circulate those images under the garb of ‘confirming’ the news.
Actor Vikrant Massey expressed his disgust over graphic content on a news channel. He also received flak for not appropriately blurring the image.
In fact, Maharashtra Cyber’s official Twitter account on Sunday also put out a series of tweets pleading people to not circulate disturbing images of Sushant as it was not just illegal but also “in bad taste.”
The death of Sushant Singh Rajput has, once again, forced us to confront the shortcomings in India media’s coverage of sensitive topics. The average Indian’s understanding of mental health and suicide is still primitive. These conversations still remain misunderstood and are a huge taboo in society - if anything, this calls for more responsible reporting of deaths caused by suicide.
Studies show that ‘Suicide Contagion’, AKA ‘Copy Cat Suicide’, is a very real problem. It is the phenomenon wherein a certain kind of coverage of suicide can trigger vulnerable people, who might already be in distress, to also try to kill themselves.
Of course, keeping people informed is top priority but doing that responsibly is equally important.
Many media outlets also extensively covered the process of how Sushant killed himself. Such graphic reportage, such triggering language can be harmful to many who might already be vulnerable.
I’m sure many media outlets may have managed to deliver the news of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death first, but at what cost?
(If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)
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