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Can We Be Sensitive And Stop Circulating Hospital Photos Of Celebrities?

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Rahul Roy, renowned for his breakthrough debut in Mahesh Bhatt’s 1990 blockbuster Aashiqui, recently suffered a brain stroke on the sets of his upcoming film LAC – Live The Battle in Kargil. The 52-year-old has reportedly been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai, where he is now stable. But as he recovers, a distressing picture of him on the hospital bed is being circulated across social media. The worst bit is, this picture, which shows him lying with his eyes shut and nose connected to a medical pipe, isn’t just being shared by netizens but has also featured on several media pages online. Which raises the urgent question: Where does news stop and humanity begin?

Such doubts crop up every time a public personality faces a similar personal ordeal or worse. We saw it happen at magnificent scales when celebrities Sushant Singh Rajput and Sridevi passed away in 2020 and 2018 respectively. Social media and mainstream news media lapped up the scraps of all the buzz there was around these events, ethics be damned. Reporting was marred by sensationalism, to the point where it made one wonder: Is what we’re watching even news anymore? Is social media fervently pushing us away from basic sensitivities? Are we losing our moral conscience in the rat-race of popularity?

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Fanning The Flames Of Sensationalism

Sharing pictures and videos – of sick, dying, or dead individuals – only fans the flames of drama and cheap shock. It is highly intrusive, and not to say, exploits the privacy of the subject in more ways than one. Would we want similar sufferings of our loved ones to be captured on a camera-phone and circulated as an indifferent WhatsApp forward for all to see?

That such visuals now count for real-time journalism, if we can call it that, is perhaps what’s most indicative of our collective denigration as a society. In September this year, we reported how Navika Kumar on Times Now showcased the dead body of Rajput at television prime time, during her ongoing “investigation” into his death. The video, also shared on social media but later deleted, was shamelessly captioned: “#Exclusive | NEVER SEEN BEFORE PICTURES OF SUSHANT’S BODY.”

A similar nightmare played out when superstar Sridevi died two years ago in Dubai. From trying to access pictures of her body to inanely recreating the “maut ka bathtub” that allegedly drowned her, Indian journalism wrote its own downfall. And this was consumed ever so willingly by the voyeuristic audience.

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Do We Circulate Disturbing Pictures Of Our Own Family Members?

Even though pictures of Roy are being shared across WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook with captions meant to wish him well for a speedy recovery, it is ironically counterproductive to the cause. Saying that pictures of a sickly or dead person are being circulated to endow blessings on him is actually a weak cover-up of human voyeurism. Why is a disturbing picture needed to quantify the seriousness of a medical situation? Are good wishes only valid when accompanied by visuals to boot?

We practice due restraint when misfortune befalls our own family members, by giving them space and time to grieve, by giving their medical conditions privacy to heal, and by showering genuine wishes upon them. Why then must we lose our sense of empathy when it comes to those we don’t know, especially celebrities?

A prime reason is that anonymity on the internet imparts relative security to our actions bereft of human compassion. And this is exacerbated by the thrill of an easy but momentary claim to fame, at the price of a few likes and retweets. But what of the gross disrespect of an ailing human body? With the swiftness that social media outrages against everything – calling for frequent boycotts and bans – it should recognise its double standards and stop gaining voyeuristic pleasure at the expense of celebrities’ privacy.

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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Can We Be Sensitive And Stop Circulating Hospital Photos Of Celebrities?
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