Death of Bollywood actor grips India with frenzied TV coverage

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By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI, Sept. 9 (Reuters) – The disappearance of a young movie star has rocked India like no other news in a year of headlines.

The brutal death of Sushant Singh Rajput has sparked a debate over the stigma of mental health, the rarefied insider world of Bollywood and, more recently, media condemnation for the non-stop coverage of the accusations of a duel between Rajput’s family. and his girlfriend. .

Mumbai police initially reported Rajput’s death as accidental and local media called it suicide. But the Federal Police Agency is currently investigating any misconduct and questioning Rajput’s girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty, and others.

On Tuesday, Chakraborty was arrested by the Indian Department of Narcotics, which is investigating a drug case linked to the investigation into Rajput’s death. She denies any wrongdoing and her lawyer, Satish Maneshinde, called the arrest a “travesty of justice”. In fact, the story has become a media obsession in India, fueled by a surging wave of television coverage nearly three months after Rajput, 34, was found dead in his Mumbai apartment.

In recent weeks, Indian TV stations have given more air time to the Rajput case than the growing number of COVID-19 cases in India, a plane crash and major political articles, according to the report. Broadcast Audience Research Council.

India’s loud TV networks, which include more than 350 news channels in English and several local languages, broadcast photos of Rajput’s body, analyzed his medical prescriptions, and even used voodoo dolls and graphics. of a skull to exaggerate claims that “black magic” had been performed on the actor.

The Federal Police, the Mumbai High Court and the Government of India’s Oversight Press Council have all criticized the coverage of the investigation.

“I spent 21 years in television and have never seen such a bad race to the bottom,” said Nidhi Razdan, who recently left Indian news network NDTV to teach journalism.

“It’s a media lawsuit. What else is it?” she says. “I’ve never seen that kind of meanness in the cover before.”

‘DISGUSTING’

Before his death on June 14, Rajput, most famous for portraying India’s cricket captain in a biopic, and his girlfriend were more likely to be portrayed as a down-to-earth couple – if Bollywood- handsome – cuddling tousled hair at home or playfully sitting in jeans on a dilapidated park bench.

Chakraborty, 28, was regularly stalked by reporters when she appeared in public, with press commentators commenting on her innocence or guilt.

Rajput’s family claim that they poisoned him, used black magic, and are responsible for his death.

“There was a conspiracy to break me, my family and my spirit,” Chakraborty said in an interview with TV presenter Rajdeep Sardesai in late August. “It’s the systematic collapse of an innocent family, an innocent girl who loved an innocent boy.”

On Sunday, she was pushed around by a pack of journalists as she tried to enter an office of the Narcotics Department in Mumbai, where police struggled to disperse the crowd.

“It’s disgusting,” journalist Swati Chaturvedi wrote on Twitter. Alaka Sahani, a senior reporter for Indian Express, said: “The footage of Rhea being stalked makes my stomach vomit.”

The CBI (NS :), the federal police agency, said last month it was investigating allegations of incitement to suicide and criminal conspiracy. His announcement came after requests from Rajput’s family and Chakraborty.

In a statement last week, the CBI said some media reports of its investigation were “speculative” and “not credible.” The office, he said, “did not share any details of the investigation with the media.”

India’s Press Council has urged the media not to “conduct their own parallel trial”.

Some TV publishers have defended the coverage.

Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV and a widely watched presenter known for his scathing comments, last week credited his channel’s coverage with a guarantee that Rajput’s death was not “whitewashed” as a suicide.

“I pushed, I pressurized, I connected the dots,” he told the OpIndia news site. “In the process, if I did a media essay, I’m glad I did.”

Goswami did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Its main show, The Debate, aired last week with the hashtag #ArrestRheaNext.

Shortly after his arrest on Tuesday, the channel began using the #RheaArrested tag.

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