On 14th June 2020, one of the dazzling icons of the Indian film industry, Sushant Singh Rajput, was found dead in his apartment in Bandra, Mumbai. This came as devastating news at a time, which has proved to be tough for many. His body was discovered by the house help who immediately contacted the police regarding the matter.
At such a time, the death of a celebrity loved by many resulted in extensive coverage by media agencies that ran the story all day. Each house had its speculation and projected headlines accordingly. A practicing advocate in the High Court of Delhi, Mohit Singh has served a legal notice of defamation to the Editor-in-chief of the India Today Group for “demeaning” the loss of such a talented artist through its channel ‘Aaj Tak’.
The channel flashed a headline comparing the act of suicide to a “hit wicket” in cricket terms. The notice stated-
“By this comment, Aaj Tak has insinuated that the death of Mr. Sushant by suicide, is equivalent to that of a batsman in cricket who breaks his own wicket with his bat or any part of his person while playing the ball or setting off for a run. The careless use of such language portrays that the news channel Aaj Tak, with its high viewership, has shed its responsibility towards the Indian masses.”
As per the advocate, since the post-mortem of the body is yet to be done, the cause of death is not clear. Under these conditions, the news broadcasted by the channel is speculative, uncorroborated, and hurts the integrity of the young actor and his memory. In addition to negligently spreading the news of the intense situation at hand, the advocate also stated that he believes that the news channel has “normalized” the act of committing suicide, a threat faced by a large part of our society in contemporary times.
These kinds of acts by news channels are punishable under Section-500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1872. The notice seeks to make sure that the news channel retracts its statements regarding the whole matter and issue an unconditional apology for “promoting and spreading misinformation about mental health issues.”
"By this Legal Notice, you are hereby required to retract the above mentioned statement, as well as any other statement of the similar nature published/displayed on your channel, and issue an unconditional public apology, for your vexatious act. The said apology should include that you take full responsibility for the mistake committed by your channel and that the news of suicide is a mere comment by the police and that the post-mortem report is awaited," the notice stated.
While the society is becoming increasingly conscious of issues regarding mental health which people face in their lives, abandonment of the social responsibility broadcasting companies owe to the community will only prove fatal. It is about time the courts take up cognizance of the issue and define the duties and guidelines regarding such a critical issue of mental health.