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The role of Indian media in arresting imitation suicide rates while reporting celeb suicides

Indian Media should report celebs suicides and deaths more responsibly and comprehensively to lower imitation suicides rates.

Indian media reportage of celebrity suicides is controversial, if not poor. They have flouted WHO guidelines multiple times while reporting the event. A lot of television channels and online news portals have carried pictures of the dead body. Some of them have even stretched their limit to enact the scene graphically.

The need for responsible coverage by Indian media

All of these coverages have a cumulative effect on Indian suicide rates. According to WHO, around 800,000 suicides happened across the globe, and India accounts for 33% of the rate.

In an emotional country like India, celebrity influence is not limited to the drawing rooms. People are vulnerable and are often misguided by their favourite celeb action.

The sub-continent has reported multiple suicidal deaths after Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) case. Astonishingly, most of them were teenagers and young adults. Indian media carried long and detailed reportages about these suicide cases.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and this writer urges more responsible coverage of the celebrity suicides and deaths to curb the imitation suicide rates.

All the sectors should acknowledge that reducing suicides cannot solely be the health sector’s responsibility. Arresting suicide rates is an intersectoral effort where the media has to play the most vital role.

Indian media highlights the cause

Be it celeb suicides or celeb deaths, Indian media have never shown any restrain on publishing the death cause. During the SSR suicide case, a television channel hosted a debate session on the possible cause of death.

The excessive sensationalizing of the death forced The Press Council Of India to take cognizance of the media.  They have issued an advisory recognizing the violations of the norms while reporting the actor’s deaths and requesting media to adhere to the guidelines.

Several teenagers and young Indians have committed suicide by hanging themselves after the detailed reportage by the media. Unfortunately, some big media houses had detailed coverage on the issue. Even an excerpt of the suicidal note in a particular imitation suicide case was also reported.

Media reports tend to connect one’s financial condition with suicide. While doing so, they are unknowingly implying that hanging is one of the easy methods of ending your life if you are in financial trouble.

Indian media centralizes on the theme

It is saddening to write that media picks up death as the central theme of their celeb death or suicide coverage. It seemed that while reporting the recent death case of Sidharth Shukla, they had to mention that he died due to so and so reasons. Some of the reportage had even tried to sensationalize the death by reporting the absence of certain family members.

Some of them have even drawn similarities between SSR and Sidharth Shukla‘s deaths. All of these are increasing the number of imitation suicides.

During the SSR death case, each media house had reported all the suicide cases of the filmy world during that period and their connection with Sushant. All of them have used pictures of the dead actors with Sushant.  Even Sidharth Shukla was not spared. They have even published the self-drawn conclusion of Bollywood isolation, along with the SSR connection as a possible reason for Sidharth’s death.

Even today, some news portals carried photo stories of celebs who have committed suicide. 

Indian Media and imitation suicide prevention

An imitation suicide means suicide committed by a fan after the death of their favourite star. The term was widely acknowledged and coined by the Indian media after the SSR death case.  A simple act of providing the suicide prevention helpline numbers can arrest the increase.

Until PCI issued guidelines, popular dailies have chosen not to publish suicide prevention helpline numbers prominently. Except for The Hindu, this writer did not witness any major media houses publishing the contacts. 

Instead of reporting about the incident, the media should report on how to understand the symptoms of imitation suicide tendency. Often the parents or elders are clueless about such tendencies.

Despite PCI issuing guidelines, Indian media tends to dramatize the events as clickbait. The council should declare recognition and accreditation for journalists who have covered such events responsibly. Sensitization of copywriters on how to write about suicides and deaths is necessary.

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Sayantika Bhowal

Sayantika Bhowal is a news connoisseur who is particularly interested in politics and human interest stories. She holds a PGDM degree in journalism from the Asian College Of Journalism. An avid reader, Sayantika spends her time painting pictures and eating Mughlai cuisine.
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