The Network of Women in Media on Sunday denounced the “media trail” led by some section of television news channels in connection with their coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. The organisation said investigating authorities should be allowed to their job fairly and said actor Rhea Chakraborty, who is the key accused in Rajput’s death, should not be targeted.

Rajput was found dead in his apartment in Bandra on June 14, in what the Mumbai Police said was a case of suicide. The Narcotics Control Bureau is the latest agency to be drawn into the case involving the death of the 34-year-old actor, which is already being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate.

“The coverage of the case smacks of crass sensationalism and voyeurism, with TV news channels setting up kangaroo courts to declare individuals guilty even as an investigation is ongoing,” the Network of Women in Media said in a statement. “Each day brings with it a new low in TV news channels’ coverage, from leaking private chats to making fact-free insinuations to splashing triggering images of the deceased.”

The organisation also pointed out that three investigating agencies are looking into Rajput’s death and noted that the topic has dominated prime news coverage for almost a month. “End the media trial of Rhea Chakraborty and let investigating authorities do their job freely and fairly,” it added. “Journalists cannot and must not call for her arrest before the agencies finish their probe. It should be noted that at this juncture of the investigation – when there is not even a chargesheet in place – journalists cannot declare individuals guilty.”

It also urged TV channels to respect the privacy of individuals involved in the case, including that of Rajput. “It is distressing to find channels leaking out details of his mental health when these details are clearly not meant for public consumption,” the organisation said, adding that media should report responsibly on matters of mental health.

“According to The Lancet, 197.3 million Indians suffer from mental health issues, including 45.7 million with depressive disorders and 44.9 million with anxiety disorders,” the statement said. “In such a scenario, the media plays a huge role in shaping society’s response to mental health issues. It is extremely irresponsible for channels to make erroneous statements on depression and its symptoms.”

Instead of guessing Rajput’s mental health, the news organisation advised channels to use their reach and start a responsible conversation with doctors and experts in the field. “Several conspiracy theories from social media are making their way to primetime news,” it added. “Journalists must carry out due diligence and not mindlessly give space to conspiracy theories from social media.”

It said a delivery man and a guard at Chakraborty’s apartment complex in Mumbai were “relentlessly hounded” by reporters, making a mockery of the exercise of news collection. “Videos bear testimony to how news reporters from some news channels have turned into full-time harassers,” the organisation said. “Editors and proprietors should note that they are party to this degeneration of TV news as a medium, and restore basic human decency to the profession.”

The organisation said reporting should be carried out by respecting journalistic norms of fairness, balance, impartiality and factual accuracy. “The media must be mindful of its power to shape public opinion and remain alert and responsible in its reportage,” the statement read.

Last week, the Press Council of India had asked media organisations to adhere to journalistic standards, refrain from sensational reporting and not conduct a parallel trial in the investigation into Rajput’s death. In an interview with NDTV, Chakraborty had spoken of the harassment that she and her family were facing. “The witch-hunt mentality has destroyed my family’s life,” she told the news channel.

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