Media « witch hunt » after the suicide of a Bollywood actor

India may face the coronavirus, a sluggish economy and the sound of boots on its border with China, it is the role attributed to a young Bollywood actress in the suicide of an actor who has captivated her televisions for years. month.

Rhea Chakraborty, 28, was pilloried, accused by the media of using cannabis and black magic to push Sushant Singh Rajput, her ex-boyfriend, to end his life in mid-June at the age of 34.

This media frenzy, denounced by some as a misogynistic « witch hunt », hardly bothers with ethics, with live simulations of how the actor killed himself or photos of him all smiles brandished at the screen to prove that he was not suffering from depression.

A thesis supported by the family of Mr. Rajput, which accuses the actress of having harassed him and of having taken advantage of his money, which the young woman strongly denies.

Rhea Chakraborty was arrested on Tuesday, accused of buying cannabis for the actor, whose suicide has been under criminal investigation since August.

– Media justice –

« Whenever you think TV news can’t go any lower, these channels find a way to do it, » said Geeta Seshu, a media specialist. “It is very easy for them to pose as crosses of justice by arguing that government authorities are not doing their job, but that is simply not true. Their investigations do not concern serious questions”.

The exuberant world of Indian television has long operated in tabloid mode, especially when it comes to crime and celebrity.

In 2018, after Bollywood star Sridevi accidentally drowned in a Dubai hotel, a journalist climbed into a bathtub to reconstruct the scene.

Relatives of victims are routinely hounded by journalists eager to name the culprits even before the courts examine the cases.

The coverage of the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput is no exception to the rule, but touches a country anxious about the future.

Even as televisions hailed the arrest of Rhea Chakraborty, India rose to second place in the world in the number of coronavirus cases.

Mainstream channels like the openly partisan Republic and Times Now have given Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi some welcome respite by focusing on the Rajput affair.

– Demonization –

The death of the successful actor has shocked a country where depression has long been stigmatized and seen as affecting failures.

When his family assured the media that he was not depressed and had been manipulated by the actress, many were quick to believe it, starting with the televisions. Or some politicians: Mr. Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People’s Party), has launched a #JusticeForSushant campaign in Bihar (east), the actor’s native state, where elections are taking place next month.

But not everyone agrees. Many Bollywood celebrities are claiming #JusticeForRhea on their Instagram profiles. Actress Vidya Balan condemned « the media circus ».

Images of the young actress vilified being pushed by cameramen, without respecting the rules of physical distance, were displeased.

« It’s the demonization of a young woman, » observes feminist activist Vandita Morarka. « It’s extremely unfair and very misogynistic. »

It is unlikely, however, that the sensationalism will subside, for lack of adequate regulation. “The channels pretty much do whatever they want,” Ms. Seshu says. At the risk of eroding the confidence of Indians in the media, she warns.

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