Media Trial of Rhea Chakraborty!

The handling of the SSR death by many in the media makes one to infer that we still have a long way to go for a responsible, independent and free media which is one of the pre-requisite for a liberal democratic republic.

After the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) on June 14, his family made claims that he was murdered casting suspicion on his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty (RC). Some mainstream media and the social media is agog, and the matter became political with Bihar and Maharashtra fighting it out whether Bihar had the authority to register an FIR; perhaps the reason may be his cousin is a sitting BJP MLA in Bihar. Even the DGP of Bihar had come out with statements supporting his chief minister and thrashing RC.

Abetment of suicide is the current charge which is under investigation by the CBI but the jumping in of various agencies like Enforcement Directorate and Narcotic Control Bureau makes a simple case a very complex one and RC is made to be seen as a drug dealer and a vixen. She may have taken drugs though she claims she has not; and so what, as per the first National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Use, about 15 crore in India consume alcohol of which about 5.7 crore are dependent, about 3.1 crore use cannabis products of which about 25 lakh are dependent and about 2.26 crore use opoids of which about 77 lakh are dependent. Rather than considering the users as having psychological problems requiring medical care, treating them as criminals will only make them go underground thereby giving up the chance for treatment.

The worst part is the selective leaks by the investigating agencies. Some of the national visual media is conducting a media trial and have come to the conclusion that he was murdered and RC is the culprit. Let the CBI do its investigation and come out with the findings and let them prosecute those whom they conclude is guilty and only when the court convicts can one say yes this and that is guilty. Will these so called journalists who has pronounced the verdict quit as journalists, if their claims were subsequently found unsubstantiated? In other words should they not be responsible for their words and acts? Merely trying to hide behind the veneer of freedom of speech indicates utter irresponsibility on their part.

Will there be such witch-hunt if the election in Bihar is not round the corner? There is very strong suspicion that there is hand of the establishment in the propagation in this tamasha. If the Maharashtra Government is led by the BJP will there be such rigmarole? The Central Government must be clapping with glee as this has put on hold on everything; its misplaced trust on lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19, the examinations of Universities, JEE and NEET, the Dr. degree of the Union Education Minister, the economic down turn due to the pandemic, etc which are serious matters were not brought to the limelight and were buried under the din of the allegations in the SSR matter.

To a common man, it is not clear how a person who was asked to leave on June 8 and left on that day be a murderer? If RC was giving ‘poison’ to SSR as claimed by his father, when she left the poisoning would have stopped and he should get better. What happened between June 8 and 14 was hardly enquired and it was made as if RC was present when the death occurred, which it is not. There were reports that the time of death was not indicated in the post mortem report but this was belied by the report. Such vague and misplaced allegations must be separated as these are not worth even considering.

Then there are claims about the use of cannabinol oil as if it is a drug. The high in marijuana and its products was caused by THC which is present in traces in the oil and taking some quantity will never lead to high nor is it habit forming. It seems that many such reporters who claim to seek justice is utterly biased and are innocents of facts that one is made to infer they are either so incompetent or their ego is so bloated that what they think is right. The latter may be truer and it seems that there is a need to puncture their outsize ego to let them come down to earth. And they are shameless, as in the past when their claim was found unjustified they never apologise but targets another victim; thereby indicating total lack of decency and ethics.

Let the CBI do the investigation and come out with their findings, as also the ED and the NCB. But what is NCB doing there when crores and crores worth of drugs were seized, including those involving foreign nationals and large-scale plantation of poppy was reported in Manipur and there is serious allegation of favouritism towards some of the culprits with political connections and they are literally sleeping? Such selective interest does no good to the organisation and their credibility is put to task.

The interview of RC in a few TV channels came out as fresh air. She had lost a loved one but her poise and her answers did dispel some of the misconceptions and claims. This is not to support her but hearing both sides of the coin did make one realise that there is something drastically wrong with some of the media. Her family is thrown to the dust, but has anyone questioned the credibility of his family, especially his father? The relation between father and son was swept under the carpet as well as the fact that one of his sisters lived with him during the period from 8th to 14th and it was only when the interview with RC was done, this fact came out. The allegation that his present staffs were all appointed by RC was also belied after her claim that they were already there when she moved in; which nobody has now the guts to challenge. The rabid channels try to show that his family members were unaware of his depression but that also had been belied.

Depression is a debilitating mental condition and there is always an apprehension to state that one has this disease. Deepika Padukone was an exception in the film industry to come out in the open to state her mental condition and she is really brave. But there is discrimination against those suffering from this illness not only in the film industry but also in other professions. Merely that someone is outgoing does not mean that he does not suffer from the illness. SSR is an outgoing person full of life does not mean he can’t have depression.

Media also focuses on the fact that SSR spent money on RC. So what, when somebody is in love they spent money on the loved one. The poor will spend less while the rich spend more. Being in love means showering gifts to the love ones! Whether the journalists harping on this aspect never had a loved one in their life? Are they too single-minded that they have no time for love? If so they need to be pitied as they are missing one of the best gifts of life.

This is not to support this or that person; RC may be wrong or she may be right and that is not the question and that will be decided by the courts after the investigation of the agencies are complete. The question is the behaviour of some of the well known journalists who threw ethics to the wind by becoming the investigator, the prosecutor and the judge to pronounce judgement that RC is a criminal. Hiding behind freedom of speech and vilifying somebody based on hearsay is highly unethical and they do not deserve to be in the exalted profession.

Unfettered freedom requires unfettered responsibility. The handling of the SSR death by many in the media makes one to infer that we still have a long way to go for a responsible, independent and free media which is one of the pre-requisite for a liberal democratic republic.  For TRP, some of the channels are ready to do the undoable and they are competing with the social media in propagating falsehood within going into the depth of an issue. Even when there is double digit negative growth in India during the first quarter of 2020-21, some of the channels continue to harp on the SSR matter, rather than focus on the economic front which is impacting everyone in the country. That is the priority for them!

(The views expressed is personal)

First Published:Sept. 1, 2020, 10:30 p.m.