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The way news channels report about celebrity suicides leaves much to be desired

The importance of the media in the modern world cannot be over-emphasized – it plays a critical role in

our life, keeping us updated about all that is happening in the world. In fact, we cannot imagine a day

without television news. In spite of online news being freely available, most people still rely on news

channels to keep up with current events.

India has several news networks, both regional and national. Unfortunately, the quality of reporting,

especially of national, mainstream channels, has nose-dived to an alarming extent. News channels,

instead of reporting, mostly act as PR agencies of the government, and spread propaganda, not news.

In today’s communally-charged atmosphere, if a particular news item has even a remote connection

with members of a minority community, ‘news’ channels pounce upon it, twist the news to suit their

agenda, and, very often, misrepresent facts. The reporting becomes even worse if a celebrity is involved.

And if it happens to be a celebrity suicide, then the reporting becomes truly very strident, shrill, one-

sided, and plain ugly.

Tunisha Sharma suicide: Case in point

On December 24, 2022, Tunisha Sharma, a 20-year-old television actress, hanged herself in the make-up

room of her co-star, Sheezan Mohammed Khan, on the set of the television serial, Ali Baba: Dastaan-E-

Kabul. She was taken to a hospital where she was declared dead on arrival. Khan was booked for

abetment to suicide and was arrested after Sharma’s mother filed a case against him. Sharma and Khan

had, reportedly, been in a relationship, but had broken up shortly before her death.

Instead of reporting about the sad case with restraint and responsibility, the media went ballistic. All

kinds of allegations were made, with barely any proof to back them. For days on end, all that ‘news’

channels could talk about was “Love Jehad”, as Sharma and Khan belonged to different religions.

“Love Jehad” is an Islamophobic conspiracy theory, developed by proponents of majoritarianism. Even

though the Centre itself has admitted that the term is not defined under the extant laws, it continues to

be used irresponsibly, and, often, maliciously, by political parties, their spokespersons on TV debates,

and by the media itself.

According to the conspiracy theory, Muslim men seduce Hindu women and then convert them to Islam,

using deception, kidnapping, and marriage, as they want to engage in a broader demographic "war"

against India. Seldom do the proponents of the theory back their allegations with proof, and neither

does the media.

In Sharma’s case too, the term was flung about by all and sundry. Her ‘uncle’, who later turned out to be

her manager, and not related to her, claimed that her death was related to “Love Jehad”. News channels

paraded her mother, who accused Khan of ‘forcing’ Sharma to follow Islamic ways. Allegations of

Sharma having been influenced to speak in Urdu and wear a hijab were made freely.

Khan’s family finally spoke up, with his sisters saying the photos of Sharma, in which she was wearing a

hijab, and which had gone viral, were from the television serial, Alibaba: Dastan-e-Kabul. They added

that Sharma was learning the Urdu diction since the character she was playing on the show was required

to speak in that language.

But to this day, whenever any development in the case is reported, the media duly makes references to

“Love Jehad”. Why Sharma committed suicide may never be known, but the way television channels

reported it leaves much to be desired.

Sushant Singh Rajput case: All norms of reporting given the go-by

A couple of years ago, news channels exhibited similar appalling levels of insensitivity when reporting

about the suicide of Hindi film actor, Sushant Singh Rajput. His girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty, was

hounded, harassed and character-assassinated by several mainstream national news channels.

Media houses were accused of sensationalising Rajput's death, and putting Chakraborty through a

media trial. An RTI activist lodged a complaint against Hindi news channel, Aaj Tak, for its incredibly

insensitive headline, “Aise kaise hit-wicket ho gaye Sushant?”. Complaints were also lodged against ABP

News and Zee News for their tirade against Chakraborty, and very poor standards of reporting. A PIL was

filed against Arnab Goswami of Republic TV, alleging that he distorted facts about the case, and

infringed on the rights of Chakraborty.

It is time news channels learned to behave like news disseminators, and not like propagandists and

government apologists. Responsible reporting of celebrity suicides is of utmost importance as studies

have shown that the publicity surrounding celebrity suicides increases suicide rates among the general

public. Repeated, insensitive media coverage perpetuates the notion that suicide is an acceptable way

out when one is faced with problems.

The media needs to realize that suicide is not something to profit from – it needs to report on celebrity

suicides in a restrained manner, and not sensationalize unfortunate events.

By Tanya Poulose

Rajagiri Public School, Ernakulam, Kerala

Author's Profile: Tanya is a 14-year-old who enjoys playing basketball, reading and debating. She hopes to become a lawyer when she grows up.



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