Blog: The “9 O’ Clock Judges” In Sushant Singh Rajput Case

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One of my first lessons in journalism was that facts are sacrosanct. I saw this basic principle of journalism tossed aside while reporting on the Sushant Singh Rajput case. Sections of the media went completely berserk and threw good practices out of the window to cater to a political agenda. I am aghast at how the story has been reported by many.

I am not going to get into who is guilty and who is not because that’s not my job.

From sleazy conspiracy theories to cooked up stories and fabricated post-mortem reports, we have seen it all in this media feeding frenzy. I don’t need to name anyone but one particular figure from the media has been leading the pack when it comes to this kind of blatant misreporting. Reporters on the field have felt helpless as editors twisted the narrative. This has caused unbelievable damage to the credibility of TV news. I would like to add here that my own channel stayed away from the noise and stuck to reporting facts.

Sushant Singh Rajput’s death was unfortunate and shocking. What pushed him over the edge is something that a probe should focus on. But we, as reporters, cannot become judges and conduct media trials. We can bring out the facts but we cannot sit on judgement. We can raise our voice but we must not scream.

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Sushant Singh Rajput with Rhea Chakraborty (file photo)

But in reporting this case, all boundaries have been crossed. I am glad that my editors not even once suggested reporting anything that goes against the principles of journalism. But many of my counterparts were less fortunate. They were left shocked by their editors’ stunning lack of ethics.

The upcoming Bihar elections added another layer to the messy affair. Sushant Singh Rajput’s Bihar origin, which the actor himself never really played up, has given political parties a cause – justice for a rising young son of Bihar whose life was cut short.

Demands for a CBI probe into the actor’s death have dominated Bihar politics in the past few weeks.

Nothing wrong with that, it is a fair demand. But some politicians have taken the case to ridiculous extremes, even suggesting the actor was murdered – something that has not been borne out by available facts and evidence.

But nothing stops those with an agenda. Certainly not facts.

Again, I will not get into who is guilty and who is not for the late actor’s mental state.

Whether his friend Rhea Chakraborty played any role in the tragedy or took his money – as alleged by Sushant Singh Rajput’s family – is something that investigations and the courts will determine. She has been questioned by the Mumbai Police and has spent two days answering questions of the Enforcement Directorate, which investigates financial crimes.

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Rhea Chakraborty and her brother at the Enforcement Directorate office in Mumbai

But Rhea Chakraborty has been declared guilty by the “9 o’ clock judges” – editors who pass judgement every day on their prime-time debates. Before her, the same set of people had condemned other film industry personalities and had accused them of neglecting, sidelining and mentally tormenting the actor. Key witnesses whose statements were recorded by the police are being paraded on TV and all of this can backfire if criminal proceedings are initiated.

The Mumbai Police Commissioner put out some clarifications before the media after speculation and rumours got out of control.

At a badly organised press conference, it was clarified that Sushant Singh Rajput’s family met senior officers of the Mumbai Police and gave a written statement in the presence of a police officer. Not once did the family mention the charges they listed just weeks later in an FIR registered with the Patna Police. The Mumbai Police says when an FIR is registered for a crime committed outside jurisdiction, a zero FIR is registered and the case is transferred to the police force that has the jurisdiction. The Patna Police argues that it has the right to investigate as the complainant – the actor’s father – stays in Patna, within their jurisdiction, even though the death took place in Mumbai. And now the centre has handed over the case to the CBI. The Supreme Court’s word will be final on who has jurisdiction.

The Mumbai Police has denied that it failed to act on the family’s complaints of a threat to Sushant Singh Rajput’s life. The police said Mr Rajput’s brother-in-law, who is a police officer, had been using his influence to sort out the actor’s lack of contact with his family, allegedly on Rhea Chakraborty’s urging. On what was conveyed to the family, Deputy Commissioner of Police Paramjit Singh Dahiya told NDTV, “…The allegations may be whatever they are. I am not going to act. I am not going to call any woman or a man to a police station without a written complaint. And it was told to me in as many words that ‘you should call the woman (Rhea Chakraborty) and her aides to the police station’ and sort out this matter in a ‘police way’. It was illegal and I refused to do that.” The police say the family never gave a written complaint despite the Mumbai Police requesting them to do so.

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Sushant Singh Rajput’s father 

Somehow, after the shocking death of one of Bollywood’s most promising actors, politics has overshadowed the actual investigation and it is not just limited to Bihar.

In Maharashtra, the BJP has backed the demand for a CBI probe while the ruling Shiv Sena – no longer its ally – has backed the Mumbai Police. The BJP, including former Shiv Sainik and Chief Minister Narayan Rane, has directly targeted the Thackerays and alleged that Sushant Singh Rajput was murdered. Mr Rane also claimed that Rajput’s former manager Disha Salian – who died a week before his suicide after a fall from the 14th floor – was raped and murdered. But when pressed for evidence to back his claims, Mr Rane could not produce any. His press conference amplified the lurid conspiracy theories on social media.

Disha Salian’s distraught parents have denied the theories and requested the media to stop false speculation on their daughter.

But if you have an agenda, just ignore them.

Sushant Singh Rajput’s was the most high-profile death but several TV actors have died by suicide in the last few months, as the nation battled coronavirus. Many were believed to have been desperate due to lack of work after the lockdown. There may have been other reasons. But any conversation on mental health issues has been clouded by sensationalism. Those using Sushant Singh Rajput’s name today are not justice seekers. They are simply running an agenda. How will journalism recover from this?

(Saurabh Gupta is Bureau Chief – Mumbai at NDTV)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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