New Delhi: Actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s sudden death by suicide was shocking enough, but Hindi news channels stooped to an all-time low while reporting his death. From sensational headlines with words such as ‘phaansi’ ( India TV), minute and unnecessary details of his death — like the colour of the cloth around his neck on Aaj Tak, and harassing his relatives for a byte (Aaj Tak, ABP News), showed exactly how such a tragic event should not be reported.
In possibly the worst performance since actor Sridevi’s death in 2018, when channels disturbingly ‘recreated’ her death with a virtual bathtub, several Hindi channels attempted to dissect Rajput’s death like a lab frog.
From the time the news first broke early afternoon of the tragic incident, the Hindi news channels suspended all other news coverage — and their sensibilities— to provide non-stop coverage on Sushant Singh Rajput’s life and death. Nothing was sacrosanct for them.
Some resorted to tonedeaf puns: On Zee News, anchors Sachin Arora and Aditi Tyagi invited panelists and asked, “Filmon ka Dhoni asal zindagi mein out kaise” (How can the reel life Dhoni got out in real life). Similarly, on Aaj Tak, Chitra Tripathi asked, “Sushant zindagi ki pitch par hit-wicket kaise ho gaye” (how did Sushant get ‘hit-wicket’ on life’s pitch).
The channel also analysed his Instagram posts to “find out” the reason behind his suicide. With melodramatic background scores and rhyming tag-lines such as ‘Sushant itne ashant kaise’ (how come Sushant was so restless), Aaj Tak’s coverage was straight out of C-grade films.
It was one of the first channels to reach Singh’s residence in Patna, and the reporter kept trying to get a comment from his father, who was clearly too shocked by grief to say anything. But the reporter was relentless.
ABP News went a step further, and kept watch outside the room where his father had retired after he fell unconscious. The reporter kept badgering Singh’s relatives, who were visibly teary-eyed and unable to respond.
India TV, Zee News led all the Hindi channels in asking again and again, “Kyun kia?” (why did he do it?) “Kya vajah thi?’’ (What was the reason?). A Zee News headline read, “Patna ka Sushant Mumbai mein fail kyun?’’. (Why did Patna’s Sushant fail in Mumbai).
The farcical ‘reporting’ continued on other channels as well. TV9 Bharatvarsh, in an attempt to be even more sensational, kept flashing its ‘BREAKING NEWS’, which was essentially one of Rajput’s relatives saying that he could not have committed suicide.
And just when you thought it could not get worse, channels like News Nation featured a picture of Rajput lying dead on his bed. This picture was being circulated on WhatsApp as well and many people, including actor Vikrant Massey, called the channel out for its despicable reportage.
It also felt free to speculate about his personal life and romantic relationships. On one such on screen-off screen romance, it said,`Love’s khichdi was being cooked here’’
English news channels were less sensational, but they also committed a series of mistakes.
CNN News 18 discussed the importance of mental health but kept displaying images of celebrities who died by suicide — why show their photographs?
Psychiatrist Dr. Avni Tiwari shed some light on the difficulty around seeking help, “Someone who is a celebrity is under the limelight so they find it difficult to visit a therapist or psychiatrist. But it is equally difficult for the layman to do the same.”
Director Nitish Krishna said, “They’ll be theories flying around right now and it is best to restrain oneself, we have to wait for a police investigation to throw light on what actually happened.”
On Times Now, film producer Mukesh Bhatt was allowed to speculate on the reasons for Rajput’s suicide and to declare that when he met him, years ago, he felt there was something wrong with him and that he could see this coming. Really, is he a clairvoyant?
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.