The Press Council of India has sent an advisory to TV channels on the coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput case. It seeks to restrain the megalomaniacal coverage in which the death of a film star has been turned into a circus bypassing all social and journalistic norms.
One can point a finger at Anchor A or Anchor B, but the truth is a new genre of TV anchors have sprung up in the last few years whose only qualification and job is to out-shout others and further an agenda to create the 'other' and, in their delusional world, feel powerful.
This is an easy mantra to success and fame in the world of social media. Sushant's coverage is the reflection of the bigger malaise in the TV news industry.
It is why Rhea Chakraborty and her family have been driven to the point of breaking down; she says they are thinking of committing suicide. They have been pronounced guilty without any trial, they have been labelled drug traders, they have been declared guilty of usurping Sushant Singh Rajput's money.
I understand the agony and the pain of Sushant Singh Rajput's family. A great tragedy has befallen them. A young, potential mega-star died in mysterious circumstances. They have every reason to know the truth. They have every reason to believe that Rhea and her family may have had something to do with it. The state is duty-bound to tell them what happened, but after a proper and independent investigation. They have to be told why he killed himself or, if he was murdered, by whom and with what motive. And if Rhea and her
family are involved, they should be punished as prescribed by the law, not as desired by the press and Sushant's family.
The coverage of this case will go down in history as a case study where all norms of journalism were thrown into dustbin, where political vendetta and masochism combined to weave a sordid drama. It is a story of moral decay. I know for a fact that there is an attempt to settle scores with the Mumbai police for questioning in another matter.
With the case being assigned to the CBI by the Supreme Court, the Mumbai police finds its reputation blackened. This force was once compared to Scotland Yard. And now the case will be investigated by CBI which over a decade ago was called "a caged parrot" by the Supreme Court and in the last few years, has lost whatever little credibility remained. But who cares? what matters is that the score has been settled.
This is also a story of political vendetta. If the son of a Mumbai patriarch decides to dump an old partner and form the government with the arch-enemy, a lesson must be taught. The heir apparent's name has been taken with deliberate malice. Rumours were deliberately circulated. Social media gangs were used to the hilt. The idea was to discredit the image and destabilise the government. Has the plan succeeded? We will know soon.
But the bigger question is why other journalists became accomplices in this theatre of the absurd. TV by nature is sensational and emotional. It has become scandalous, trivial and frivolous. It feeds on voyeurism. It is sadistic. It's anything but serious. I have worked in TV for almost 20 years, and in many capacities. TV started as a great means of communication. Before so many channels sprang up, it managed a credible and serious image. After competition shot up, it retained a certain amount of sanity but this was soon forsaken in the mad race for TRPs.
As the demand of the medium changed, the nature of its practitioners has changed. Not every channel and every anchor has surrendered to diabolical agendas but for others, this is what has become the short-cut to success. Ratings are directly linked to revenue. Motives of profit become paramount- moral dilemmas and professional ethics be dammed. If Sushant Singh Rajput's story can make a channel climb the charts, then why worry about balance or truth or verification of anything at all?
Media trials and the dumbing down of the content is not new. But what is at play now is a manifestation of the rot that has set in. It seeks to brazenly divide, to polarise. What has really killed the profession is the massive support of the political establishment.
It is by design that the most powerful central investigative agencies are investigating the Sushant Singh case. And on a daily basis, minor details of the investigation are leaked to the press and run as headlines immediately.
It is this kind of support of the establishment which gives a false sense of bravado and machoism to pliable TV anchors. This power is an addiction, creating the conviction that he or she can make or break anyone's career. And so TV now has a new avatar, one which always looks for an enemy, a devil figure. Rhea is an easy target. She fits the bill.
It's a shame that for more than a month, more than 70% of TV space has been reserved for the Sushant Singh case at a time when the country has broken records for Corona cases, when the RBI has proclaimed that the for the first time , we will see negative GDP growth and the Foreign Minister has conceded that India is facing the worst crisis vis-a-vis China since 1962 while the Chief of Defense Staff says that the government is weighing military options in Ladakh.
Instead, the circus continues and the audience for it grows.
(Ashutosh is a Delhi-based author and journalist.)
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