“Arey! Apni hi film dekh lete, Sushant!” (You should have watched your own movie, Sushant!)
This is how News24 chose to report on the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, 34, who allegedly died by suicide in his Bandra home in Mumbai on Sunday. The for reporting on suicides urge the media to maintain extra caution when it comes to celebrity suicides. The guidelines include refraining from speculation, avoiding explicit descriptions and detailed information on the method used, avoiding language that sensationalises suicide, and exercising caution in using photos.
Closer to home, the Press Council of India has its own , adopted from the WHO, for reporting on suicides. Mental health organisations also the phrasing “died by suicide” or “death by suicide” over “committed suicide”, since the latter is indicative of a “sin” or “crime”, while ignoring the circumstances that led to it. In India, to decriminalise suicide.
But in the Indian media’s coverage, such nuances went out the window.
Barring a handful, most media houses ran with the story once the news broke on Sunday afternoon. Rajput’s Instagram posts were analysed for “clues” on his state of mind. The header image of his Twitter account was scrutinised, while anchors speculated on his depression and whether he had financial difficulties.
On Zee Hindustan, for example, an anchor asked: “Phir kyu haargayi zindagi ki jung?” (So, why did you lose life’s battle?) CNN-News18’s headlines of choice included “Mental health ignored?” and “Could he have been saved with counselling?”
At a fundamental level, most news houses ignored guidelines on not reporting on the method used. This is detrimental as it can give rise to copycat suicides, especially among vulnerable people. This is especially true when it comes to celebrity deaths, as was seen in the case of . International say that, for example, while reporting on an overdose, specifying the details of the brand, quantity and combination of drugs and how they were obtained could be harmful.
DNA’s story included the details of the method in its , while writing about Rajput’s last Instagram post on his late mother. Zee Hindustan’s headlines, translated to English, included “Sushant’s body was found hanging from a fan” and “In his Bandra house, he committed suicide by hanging himself”. Times Now, curiously and incorrectly, announced, “Covid + Depression claims life”.
News24’s headline — “Arey! Apni hi film dekh lete, Sushant!” — was a reference to Rajput’s movie Chhichhore, which dealt with issues of mental health. The channel followed it up with “Reel mai jo nibhaya, real mai usse bhulaya”. (What you maintained on screen, you forgot in life.) India Today said Rajput was struggling with “personal demons”. CNN-News18’s reporter said, on Rajput undergoing treatment for depression, “Certainly there was something bothering him and triggering him, but what triggered him to make such an extreme move?”