The News Broadcasting Standards Authority has fined news channel Aaj Tak Rs 1 lakh for telecasting fake tweets related to actor Sushant Singh Rajput, Live Law reported on Thursday. The self-governing authority censured the channel and asked it to air an apology, along with Zee News, News 24 and India TV for affecting the dignity of the deceased.

In its order dated October 6, the NBSA said Aaj Tak “did not conduct the due diligence required prior to telecasting the tweets and attributing” those to Rajput. It also said that videos of the same programmes if hosted, on the website of the broadcasters, YouTube or other links should be removed immediately.

The authority will give the text, date and time of the apology. Aaj Tak will have to submit a proof of compliance of telecast of the apology in a compact disc within seven days of telecast.

The NBSA added that Aaj Tak along with India TV News should apologise for the “egregious violations” of guidelines and in particular for the manner in which the images of Rajput’s body were shown. Other news channels like Zee News and News 24 will also have to air apologies in the context of specific programmes and tag lines aired by the channels. It also issued a warning to News Nation for showing Rajput’s corpse but let it off after the channel showed remorse and said it would not be repeated. ABP Majha was also let off with a warning as the authority noted that the channel did not show close up photos of the actor’s body.

The authority pulled up Aaj Tak for its “hit-wicket” tagline, used in the form of a question. “It appears that the questions are being addressed to Sushant Singh Rajput, who is no more, therefore the taglines are offensive, violate privacy and affect the dignity of the deceased.”

On “Patna ka Sushant, Mumbai me fail kyu?” [Why did Patna’s Sushant fail in Mumbai] tagline run by Zee News, the NSBA observed that it gives the impression that suicide is a failure. “There may be various reasons for suicide but the impression created was that a small-town boy committed suicide in a metro city which was his ‘failure’,” it added.

On the “Hey, why didn’t you watch your own film Sushant?” tagline used by News 24 that was in reference to the actor’s anti-suicide message in his last film, Chhichhore, the NSBA said that the taglines were “clearly offensive and affect the dignity of the deceased.”

The broadcasting authority acknowledged that the media has the right to freedom of expression and that the suicide of an actor would become “big news” and discussions on it would lead to hypotheses. It, however, said that the media should report such cases without indulging in sensationalism.

“While it is the duty of the news channel to report news, which may be in public interest and the persons being reported upon may get justice from such media reports, it is equally important to present the news in a manner which does not violate the privacy of the dead nor sensationalise a tragic incident. It is important that the dead must not be subjected to unnecessary media glare.”   

— News Broadcasting Standards Authority

The authority also found that Aaj Tak violated its guidelines on privacy as reporters barged in the home of Rajput and tried to interview his father, who was in a state of deep grief. The reporters of ABP had also approached the actor’s cousin sister, it said, adding that the news channel was let off because she volunteered to given an interview.

The NBSA is an autonomous body created by the National Broadcasting Association. Rajat Sharma, the editor-in-chief of India TV, is its president and it is chaired by former Supreme Court judge Justice AK Sikri.

Over the last few months, the death of the actor has dominated television news coverage. The Mumbai Police said it was a case of suicide, but subsequently Rajput’s family filed a complaint with Bihar Police accusing his former live-in partner Rhea Chakraborty of abetment of suicide and cheating. Three central agencies – the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate, the Narcotics Control Bureau – took up cases against her.

On September 3, the Bombay High Court asked the news channels to show restraint in reporting the case. When the matter came up before the court again on September 11, the court expressed surprise that there was no state control over electronic media.

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