The Network of Women in Media, India, denounces the media trial being carried out by a section of TV news channels in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. The case has dominated primetime news for almost a month now, to the exclusion of other important issues such as the floods in Bihar, rising job losses, the state of economy and a raging pandemic in the country. 

The coverage of the case smacks of crass sensationalism and voyeurism, with TV news channels setting up kangaroo courts to declare individuals guilty even as an investigation is ongoing. Each day brings with it a new low in TV news channels’ coverage, from leaking private chats to making fact-free insinuations to splashing triggering images of the deceased. 

NWMI upholds the media’s right to cover a case, in the public interest, with all the relevant facts. However, reporting should be carried out respecting journalistic norms of fairness, balance, impartiality and factual accuracy. The media must be mindful of its power to shape public opinion and remain alert and responsible in its reportage. 

In the light of these events, NWMI demands that the media

1. End the media trial of Rhea Chakraborty and let investigating authorities do their job freely and fairly. There is currently a complaint against Chakraborty that three investigating authorities are probing. Journalists cannot and must not call for her arrest before the agencies finish their probe. It should be noted that at this juncture of the investigation — when there is not even a chargesheet in place — journalists cannot declare individuals guilty.

2. Respect the privacy of individuals involved in the case, including that of Sushant Singh Rajput. It is distressing to find channels leaking out details of his mental health when these details are clearly not meant for public consumption.

3. Report responsibly on issues of mental health. According to The Lancet, 197·3 million Indians suffer from mental health issues, including 45·7 million with depressive disorders and 44·9 million with anxiety disorders. In such a scenario, the media plays a huge role in shaping society’s response to mental health issues. It is extremely irresponsible for channels to make erroneous statements on depression and its symptoms. TV news anchors should immediately stop the guesswork on the state of Sushant Singh Rajput’s mental health and let agencies carry out their probes. In the meantime, news anchors are requested to use their reach to start a responsible dialogue on mental health issues with doctors and experts in the field. 

4. Several conspiracy theories from social media are making their way to primetime news. Journalists must carry out due diligence and not mindlessly give space to conspiracy theories from social media. 

5. Videos emerging from around Rhea Chakraborty’s apartment complex in Mumbai bear testimony to how news reporters from some news channels have turned into full-time harassers. A delivery man and a guard at the apartment complex were relentlessly hounded by reporters, who made a mockery of the exercise of news gathering. Editors and proprietors should note that they are party to this degeneration of TV news as a medium, and restore basic human decency to the profession.

The Network of Women in Media, India, August 30, 2020

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