Does Media Have Any Right To Pronounce Rhea Chakraborty Guilty?

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There hasn’t been a single day since June 14, the day Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his apartment in Mumbai, that I haven’t heard or read the actor’s name, or that of his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty. It is everywhere, not just newspapers, social media, in phone conversations, or whatever masquerades as news channels in our country, but even in my own house. The cycle of news and speculations keeps endlessly refuelling itself, with more “exclusive coverage”, revelations and convictions. It seems like Indian media knows everything and has already zeroed in on a culprit. But is this trial by media fair?

Yesterday, a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) was reportedly filed in the Bombay High Court, that seeks to restrain the media coverage in the case of Sushant Singh’s death. “It is submitted that the media trial in the death of the Actor Sushant Singh Rajput‘s case is posing real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice, much less, the criminal justice system, or to the fairness of trial and such neutralizing device (balance act) would not be unreasonable restriction and on the contrary would fall within the proper constitutional framework,” read the PIL, as per an article in Republic World.

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Perhaps not a lot of us might have read about this PIL, because this news, like many others, got buried under the noise of two interviews given by Rhea, to two leading news channels, that were then dissected frame by frame, both by media houses and commoners on social media alike. How do we not have a saturation level for this case, is something I do not understand. The so-called evidence are reaching newsrooms even before they reach a courtroom, where an instant verdict is being provided by everyone, depending on which side of the story they believe in. Every new bulletin, every hour, finds a new agenda, new aspects to dive into.

Did he die by suicide? Did she drug him? Did her family drain his funds? Was he not on good terms with his family? Was he into substance abuse? Was he claustrophobic? Did his sister actually harass her, or is she faking it? The questions that should be raised in the court, are being raised in our drawing rooms.

And then last night, one prime time news channels, aired images of the deceased star’s body, in the name of investigative journalism. Trial by media, complete with forensic evidence, psychoanalysis, and opinions that no one asked for.

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It doesn’t matter that a dead person is not being given dignity in his death. That apart from his cold and rigid body, the life that he lived, is being dissected and piece by piece sensationalised. Who cares if he was a human being, before being a celebrity? Who cares if like every other person, he had secrets he didn’t wish to reveal, habits and decisions he wasn’t proud of, fears and heartbreaks he didn’t want to speak of? Who cares about his death anymore? But then again, what do we care for? Who cares that the trauma of those left to face the media, to bear the pain of his demise, is only being worsened by this incessant media coverage?

Do we care for #Justicefor Sushant? If we did, we would have let CBI or the Indian Justice System pronounce a verdict, rather than gleefully watch Indian media holding a witch trial of its own. Why do I say we here? Because my dear people, all this circus, all this sensationalism, is for our eyes only. It is because we are watching the news, consuming articles about Rhea being this and Sushant being that by the dozens. There is no point outraging over clips from news channels, rigged interviews, the trivialisation of mental health issues, harassment and personal insecurities, if you are going to share them on social media, thus increasing their visibility.

Also Read: Mourning Our Martyrs Needs To Go Beyond Social Media

The Indian media doesn’t care about Justice for Sushant, and I say this as someone who liked his work. They only care about who gets more views. How can one channel trump TRP of another channel bragging about an elaborate exclusive interview? By airing images of his dead body. That’s how it simply works.

We all want to know the truth, but should it come at the cost of a dead man’s dignity, or a living woman’s safety and respect? No one is pronouncing Rhea innocent here, but clearly we have no right to pronounce her guilty too unless the courts think so too. To someone who hasn’t yet been convicted of a crime, this vilification is not just unfair, it will scar the woman, Sushant’s family, and those who were close to him for life.

This trial by media needs to stop. It has to stop because a trial is not held for entertainment, nor are witch hunts legal. We are not in the middle ages anymore, and certainly, we are not bloodthirsty sadists who derive pleasure from the decimation of life and well-being of those around him.

Image Credit: TOI

The views expressed are the author’s own.