Watchdog PCI slams ‘media trial’ in Sushant Singh Rajput case, says don’t publish gossip

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Actors Sushant Singh Rajput and Rhea Chakraborty | Instagram
Actors Sushant Singh Rajput and Rhea Chakraborty | Instagram

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New Delhi: Media watchdog Press Council of India (PCI) issued an advisory Friday that took a dim view of the media coverage surrounding Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput’s death

The media, it said, should observe the norms of journalistic conduct drafted by the PCI. They should not conduct their own parallel trial or foretell the decision to avoid pressure during investigation and trial, the PCI added. 

“The council has noted with distress that coverage of the alleged suicide by a film actor by many media outlets is in violation of the norms of journalistic conduct and, therefore, advises the media to adhere to the norms…” the advisory said.

Constituted in 1966 as an autonomous, statutory, quasi-judicial body, the PCI serves as a watchdog for newspapers and news agencies of the country, with powers to censure outlets for violations. 

The PCI, however, does not have any jurisdiction over television news channels, which have been leading media coverage over the actor’s death. 

Content aired by news channels is regulated by the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, an independent agency set up by industry body News Broadcasters Association that has listed detailed guidelines on areas where broadcasters need to self-regulate. 

According to a report released Thursday by industry body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) and market research firm Nielsen, the controversy over Rajput’s death has dominated Indian news channels’ airtime over the past month from 25 July to 21 August.

Rajput was found dead in his Mumbai apartment on 14 June. His death was initially believed to be a suicide, but the case has since been handed to the CBI amid suspicions of foul play. Several news channels have dedicated hours of airtime to what they claim is crucial evidence in the case, also holding panel debates on the circumstances and speculation surrounding Rajput’s death.

Also Read: Against the 1000 questions TV news had after Sushant Singh’s death, we have just six

What does the PCI advisory say?

In its advisory, the PCI said it is not desirable to publish information based on gossip about investigations by official agencies. 

“It is not advisable to vigorously report crime-related issues on a day-to-day basis and comment on the evidence without ascertaining the factual matrix,” it said, adding that such reportage brings undue pressure in the course of fair investigation and trial.

It also advised the media to refrain from giving excessive publicity to the victim, witnesses, suspects and accused as it will amount to “invasion of their privacy rights”. 

“Identification of witnesses by the media needs to be avoided as it endangers them to come under pressure from the accused or his associates as well as investigating agencies,” it said.

The PCI advisory also notes the various do’s and don’ts of reportage concerning suicides. 

Newspapers and news agencies, it said, should not publish stories about suicide prominently, or unduly repeat such stories or use language that sensationalises or normalises suicide, or presents it as a constructive solution to problems.

Media reports, it added, should not explicitly describe the method used or provide details about the site/location and use sensational headlines and use photographs, video footage or social media links. 

Also Read: Sushant Singh Rajput death dominated TV news airtime for past 4 weeks, industry survey finds


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