The Reporting Of Sushant Singh Rajput’s Death Was A Media Circus That Was Insensitive, Shocking And Appalling. We Need To Do Better
Trigger Warning: Suicide.
On Sunday, the nation was shaken up by the tragic loss of Sushant Singh Rajput. He was an actor, one that has risen from the ranks, slowly but surely and he was on his way to super stardom. So it came as a distressing shock to all of us when news spread that he had died by suicide. A man with extraordinary talent and big dreams was let down by a society that refuses to acknowledge mental health as an important part of one’s life – and it is hardly the first time. Moreover, we still refuse to let go of the outdated and unsupported notion that material success equals mental stability and happiness. But there is another aspect to mental illness sensitivity that we are perhaps not talking about enough.
As is true with any tragedy, the media plays an role in how the people of the nation perceive it. And usually, at the scene of the event are the TV news channels. Yesterday, outside Sushant’s home was a scene of absolute chaos. On field reporters jostled for space, delivering almost minute by minute updates of what was happening. We get that this is a high profile case, like to garner eyeballs and TRP are a dangling carrot too delicious to miss. But in the midst of that, it was forgotten that this was death. Someone had lost a dear one. The extent of sensationalising a grave issue and portraying it in a way that it crossed over in to the territory of inhumane.
Hindi news channel Aaj Tak on Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death:
'How did Sushant get hit wicket?'
— Norbert Elekes (@NorbertElekes) June 14, 2020
— RJ Ira (@irationalised) June 14, 2020
The Hideous Headlines
Everyone was going to be covering this. And while sports news and entertainment news might benefit from some interestingly worded headlines, this was not the time to use this movies or his career to get people to stick to your channel. “Aise kaise ‘hit wicket’ ho gaye Sushant?” (How did Sushant get hit wicket?) is the crass and disrespectful line that a popular news channel has chosen to display on screens around the country. Meanwhile, another channel reported the incident as “Patna ka Sushant Mumbai mein fail kyun?” (Why did Sushant from Patna fail in Mumbai?). But glamourised headlines are not the only problem.
— NDTV (@ndtv) June 14, 2020
Reporters from @aajtak at Sushant Singh Rajput’s house in Patna questioning his father & uncle.
We need to show some sensitivity & leave them alone for some time. Come on.
— Pratiek Varma (@Pratiek_Varma) June 14, 2020
The Incredible Insensitivity
News reporters and photographers have swarmed Sushant’s father’s home in Pt weatna like vultures trying to pick apart a tragedy for news bytes and TRPs. Mikes were shoved into his father’s face, asking him how he felt. It’s reprehensible, the levels we will stoop to get a snippet from the father first. This is a person who has lost a loved one, and instead of allowing them to grieve, TV media stood there waiting for a chance to speak to him. It is this toxic culture of sensationalising a celebrity’s life to the point where we stop looking at them as human beings that takes a toll on their mental health. Instead of expressing grief over the incident, family members are being harassed. This is wrong.
The Photo Opportunists
It wasn’t just TV reporters who were going a little crazy in the reporting of this incident. Celebrity photographers were continuously stepping over the line of what is appropriate. Pictures of Sushant’s body being removed from his residence were splashed all over Instagram, albeit asking people if they wanted to see sensitive content. And despite the comment section being filled with people asking that these pictures be removed, there was nothing done.
What was worse were the pictures of Sushant’s dead body that were making the rounds. These were feverishly being forwarded on Whatsapp groups, as if someone would be ‘not in the know’ if they didn’t see that picture. The absolutely horrifying voyeuristic nature of our society is appalling but it’s certainly aided by these people who feel the need to sensationalise such news.
We need this to stop.
With every case, we promise to make the conversation around depression a little easier. But that will never happen if we continue to treat it in two extremes – a taboo word never to be uttered, or a scoop for gossip magazines. This could have been handled more sensitively, and in a way that doesn’t make us hate the profession itself. For right now, we have failed to offer dignity in death.