The Indian media isn’t known for being sensitive, especially in covering the most vulnerable. There isn’t a tragedy that news outlets won’t turn into a circus. The problem is so pervasive that even legal interventions have proved to address it. The coverage of the Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput is . But even by this low standard, Gujarat Samachar, one of the oldest Gujrati newspapers, plumbed new depths on Monday.
The daily published on its front page a disturbing photograph of Rajput’s body lying on his bed. It accompanied a report subtitled, “Sushant was suffering from depression and receiving treatment for the last six months."
This despite the Maharashtra police warning of legal action against anyone found circulating such pictures of the actor’s body.
When Newslaundry asked Shreyansh Shah, the managing editor of Gujarat Samachar, why they carried the picture in violation of the Press Council of India’s , he said, “There is a difference of opinion but we are absolutely right. Some readers think it was right whereas others think that it was not required. I don’t want to discuss this any further. Whether we should publish such pictures or not, my editorial team will decide.”
Rohan Nahar, a criminal lawyer in Mumbai, wasn’t convinced. “The photos were leaked by the police. An inquiry should be initiated against the officer who leaked those photos. Publishing such photos in print media or on social media is really scary, and hampers the investigation. Many suicides take place in India but in cases where the deceased person is a public figure such things occur. It’s a major issue and should be highlighted.”
Aloke Thakore, who has long been training journalists in newsrooms, made a larger argument. "When selecting a photograph, either the photo editor or the desk should ask a simple question: does the picture illustrate the story, extend the story, exemplify the story or does it serve the prurient or voyeuristic interest of the readers? If it is the last, it should not be carried. Depictions or images of death have over a long time served both prurient and voyeuristic interests. And that is true even in this case.”
He added, “But it should be pointed out that the outrage would not have been there if the photograph was of a poor or marginalised person. In fact, even a cursory perusal will lead you to many such photographs. So the importance of class should be noted in the outrage. As for journalists on the scene the golden rule serves as a good rule of thumb: imagine the dead to be a family member and ask would you want anyone to take a picture and publicise it."
Thakore pointed out that “suicide contagion is a well acknowledged phenomenon". "Unfortunately, the Indian news media are largely ignorant of what that is and what is the proper way of reporting suicides.”
Suicide prevention helpline numbers
Fortis:+91 8376804102; AASRA: +91 98204 66726; The Samaritans Mumbai: +91 84229 84528(5 pm to 8 pm)
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