The death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has caused shockwaves in the entertainment industry, with social media erupting in furore over the suicide of the popular actor.
The tragic nature of his death, however, did not stop the mainstream media from overtly sensationalising the matter, despite several reporting guidelines on suicide provided by the Press Council of India (PCI).
As examples of highly irresponsible reporting, some of the reports described the method of suicide, while some others added images of Rajput lying dead in his bed, both of which flout the guidelines provided by PCI.
Rajput was found dead at the age of 34 in his apartment in Mumbai on June 14, 2020. The police ruled it as suicide.
Press Council's Guidelines On Suicide Reporting
In 2019, the Press Council of India (PCI) issues a set of guidelines regarding reporting on suicides. According to the guidelines, the following are to be avoided:
- Publish stories about suicide prominently and unduly repeat such stories
- Use language which sensationalize or normalizes suicide, or presents it as a constructive solution to problems
- Explicitly describe the method used
- Provide details about the site/location
- Use sensational headlines
- Use photographs, video footage or social media links.
The media coverage of Rajput's suicide was found to flout most of these guidelines.
In 2016, Rajput took on the role of former Indian cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the biopic MS Dhoni - The Untold Story. This led some news channels to use cricketing terminology to create highly sensational headlines.
Zee News put out a tweet with the caption, "फिल्मी का 'धोनी' असल ज़िंदगी में 'आउट' कैसे?" (How did the Dhoni of cinemas get "out" in real life?)
Aaj Tak also put out a similar caption in the ticker, stating, "How did Sushant get a "hit wicket"?" This was called out by many Twitter users, with the hashtag #ShameOnAajTak trending on the micro-blogging platform.
It was not even hours when @aajtak reached the mourning family of #ShushantSinghRajput, just to get an exclusive statement and this is the headline they ran today.Fir poochte hai hamari izzat kyu nhi krrte, gaali khane waale kaam karoge to phool to nhi hi milenge.#ShameOnAajTak pic.twitter.com/HVDfMrwXOv— kartikeya Chaurasia (@nawab_lko_waale) June 14, 2020
Zee News also put out another sensational headline : "How did Sushant from Patna fail in Mumbai?"
ABP News was also found sensationalising the matter by using a reference Kai Po Che (a kiting term used in Gujarat which means "I have cut it", referring to the act of cutting the strings of another kite), another film which stars Rajput. ABP's headline said, "सांसों की डोर... काई पो चे हो गय" (The strings of breath... became Kai Po Che).
The above examples of reporting are strictly in conflict with the guidelines presented by PCI, especially with regards to point 2 and 5 (Use language which sensationalize or normalizes suicide; using sensational headlines).
Pictures of Rajput lying dead in his bed has also been circulated on social media, which ended up being used by News Nation in their coverage of Rajput's death. This was called out by actor Vikrant Massey, who posted a screengrab of News Nation's segment on the matter.
Using such photos while reporting on suicide is an infringement of point 6 of the guideline.
Maharashtra Cyber, Maharashtra Government's Nodal office for Cyber Crime investigation, put out a thread on Twitter, warning people against sharing the images of the deceased actor.
A disturbing trend has been observed on Social Media platforms by Maharashtra Cyber that pictures of deceased actor Shri. Sushant Singh Rajput are being circulated, which are disturbing and in bad taste. (1/n)— Maharashtra Cyber (@MahaCyber1) June 14, 2020
Point 3 of the PCI guidelines advise against explicitly describing the method of suicide. Aaj Tak was found flouting this rule in their coverage, by using a headline which explicitly described the method of suicide used.
Aaj Tak was also found using the hashtag #SushantSinghRajput to push out an unrelated tweet around COVID-19 cases in Delhi. This is an infringement of point 1 of the guidelines (publish stories about suicide prominently and unduly repeat such stories).
Netizens also criticised Aaj Tak for seeking out a comment from the actor's relatives in Bihar, which showed his father - who seemed shell-shocked from the news.
Note: If you are in need of support, or know someone who does, do not hesitate to reach out to one of the helplines below:
- AASRA: 91-22-27546669 (24 hours)
- Sneha Foundation: 91-44-24640050 (24 hours)
- Vandrevala Foundation for Mental Health: 1860-2662-345 and 1800-2333-330 (24 hours)
- iCall: (555)123-4567 (Available from Monday to Saturday: 8:00am to 10:00pm)
- Connecting NGO: 18002094353 (Available from 12 pm - 8 pm)
- The Samaritans Mumbai: 91-84229 84528/91-84229 84529/91 84228 84530 (Daily, 3 pm - 9 pm)