The News Broadcasting Standards Authority has directed television channels Aaj Tak, Zee News, News 24 and India TV to comply with its order to issue an apology for its insensitive reporting and sensationalised reporting of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, Live Law reported on Saturday.

The authority has found them in violation of its guidelines and asked the channels to apologise to viewers on air. On October 6, NBSA had said that the text, date and time of the apology will be given to the broadcasters.

Now, the authority has directed Aaj Tak to air an apology on October 27 at 8 pm and pay a fine of Rs 1 lakh for attributing fake tweets to the actor and reporting them as his last tweets. The channel had later deleted the tweets and taken down the supporting story.

“The broadcaster should have conducted its due diligence and verification prior to telecasting/uploading the tweets and not subsequently, which due diligence is a basic tenet and requirement of journalistic ethics and telecasting the tweets without verification had the tendency of spreading misinformation amongst the public,” the NBSA said.

Zee News has been asked to air an apology also on October 27 for sensationalising Rajput’s death by running insensitive tag lines. The NBSA also found India TV in “egregious violation” of its guidelines, for repeatedly describing the colour of the lips and the marks on the actor’s neck following his death. The channel had also repeatedly shown the body carried out of the actor’s apartment, covered in a cloth.

The authority ordered News 24 to telecast an apology on October 29 for insensitive and sensational coverage of the actor’s death. The authority said the taglines run by News 24 were “offensive and affect the dignity of the deceased” by indicating that Rajput had himself forgotten the anti-suicide message given by him in his movie Chhichhore.

The NBSA also asked ABP News to remove objectionable videos of the coverage of Rajput’s death.

“Undoubtedly, the media has the right of freedom of speech and expression,” the authority had said in its October 6 order. “It also cannot be doubted that when well-known public personality like Sushant Singh Rajput commits suicide, not only it becomes a big news, but also a matter of discussion which can revolve around various complaints and hypothesis. Therefore, telecast of such programmes, per se, can neither be discouraged nor criticised.”

The NBSA had added that apart from expressing and publishing information, the right to freedom of expression includes receiving information. By disseminating this information, the media is helping citizens avail of this right, it had said.

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Aaj Tak fined Rs 1 lakh by broadcasters’ body for telecasting fake tweets on Sushant Singh’s death

Coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death

Over the last few months, the death of the actor on June 14 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 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.

On September 17, the Delhi High Court had directed media houses to exercise restraint after actor Rakul Preet Singh filed a petition against unsubstantiated reports linking her with a drug case, in which Rhea Chakraborty is a prime accused. Singh had argued that media reports were being run in contravention with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting guidelines.

Before that, the Press Council of India had advised media organisations to adhere to journalistic standards, refrain from sensational reporting and not conduct a parallel trial in the investigation into Rajput’s death. The Network of Women in Media had also criticised media houses for targeting Rhea Chakraborty and said investigating authorities should be allowed to do their job fairly.

Investigation into the case also put Bollywood in muddied waters, as the Narcotics Control Bureau claimed to have unearthed a close nexus between illegal drug consumption and the film industry. On October 12, top Bollywood filmmakers and producers filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against “irresponsible reporting by certain media houses” around Rajput’s death. The lawsuit was filed against Republic TV and Arnab Goswami and Pradeep Bhandari of the channel; and Times Now and its prominent anchors Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar.