Death of a star and Indian media
While covering superstar Sridevi’s sudden death, journalism died an unnatural death many times over, in the last week.
The pain of loss and bereavement are deeply personal; but not when you are a public personality. Every mishap, heartbreak, or death is splashed as headlines on every news outlet. It is the price that you pay for being in the public eye. You do not get to choose the publicity that you receive if you are a celebrity. But last week's media circus surrounding superstar Sridevi's sudden death was perhaps the lowest point in the journalistic history of the country. Indian media that has stood apart from the intrusive paparazzi of the West, debased all the ethics and journalistic rules that govern the profession.
For starters, speculations of alleged cosmetic surgeries, dangerous diets, weight loss pills, consumption of alcohol, and other seedy reasons that may have caused Sridevi's untimely demise started doing the rounds. When an incident is under investigation, journalism students are taught to only go by what the official report says. Reporting baseless speculation not backed by evidence is a cardinal sin. Seasoned journalists, especially television reporters, conveniently chose to forget this doctrine. From pushing cameras in the faces of mourning family members and holding non-stop coverage of the death to reporters jumping into actual bathtubs and displaying horrific graphic imagery of the deceased actress on studio chroma walls – the Indian media did everything wrong, much to the embarrassment of the rest of us. And, journalism died an unnatural death many times over in the last week.
Senior editors managing the content on their news channels turned a blind eye to this morbid display of journalism; TRPs, you see, are more important than being humane and decent. Instead of laudatory obituaries of the actress' prolific career or the reaction of her grief-stricken fans, a crass 'whodunnit' was playing at all news channels near you. So cheap was the coverage that switching on the television was no option; I cannot even imagine how the family members handled this ghastly show. But, this is not the first time that the Indian media fell to its nadir, Sunanda Pushkar's death was another instance. There are lessons to be learnt from foreign media and its handling of celebrity deaths. Whether it was Princess Diana's death in a car crash, or the sudden death of Michael Jackson, the foreign press has shown restraint where we have failed miserably.
At a time when there is little respect for journalism (everyone says we are sold out), such depictions of the profession are doing further irreversible harm. Media comes across as unethical, irresponsible, and bereft of dignity. Perhaps, it is time that all editors and senior reporters admit themselves into a refresher course to remember what journalism is all about. The basic tenets of journalism remain the same even today; and if the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) continues its silence, then we have no hope of leading juniors by example. The mad rush for TRPs is not what journalism stands for. We are to report facts, not conjecture and gossip.
Not just journalism, all of us in the real world partook in this obscene voyeurism. From discussions at parties to the circulation of jokes and memes surrounding the incident on Whatsapp and social media –it all left a bad taste.
It is disheartening that we derive pleasure out of others' sorrow. Empathy for the bereaved and respect for the dead seems lost in today's world. I wonder what refresher course there is for humanity.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal.)