Sunanda Pushkar’s death: Headlines Today’s footage of her body is repugnant

When the dead body of Sunanda Pushkar is served up on the news, it is tabloid voyeurism, pure and simple, even if it is dressed up as intrepid investigative journalism.

Sandip Roy January 07, 2015 14:40:05 IST
Sunanda Pushkar’s death: Headlines Today’s footage of her body is repugnant

Sometimes a picture is not worth a thousand words.

When the dead body of Sunanda Pushkar is served up on the news, it is tabloid voyeurism, pure and simple, even if it is dressed up as intrepid investigative journalism.

Sunanda Pushkars death Headlines Todays footage of her body is repugnant

A file photo of Sunanda Pushkar who was found dead in a Delhi hotel last year. PTI

The Headlines Today footage advises “viewer discretion” and acknowledges that “some of these pictures might be disturbing.” But what is more disturbing is that a television channel thought it fine to splash leaked photographs of Sunanda Pushkar’s dead body on the news, touting their prurient value with the tag, “New photographs you’ve never seen before.”

There’s a good reason why we haven’t seen them before, and likely never should.

Everyone is entitled to some measure of privacy, more so in death. These pictures were not paparazzi shots taken at a public event but inside a hotel room where Sunanda died. They are part of a possible crime investigation. They should have been seen by no one other than the police investigating the case and the family who might have been in the hotel room. Putting them into the public domain serves no purpose except to whet our appetite for the salacious. The police have already registered a murder case against unknown persons which, as Kiran Bedi points out in vain -- like a voice in the wilderness -- is a great distance from concluding it is actually a case of murder. It merely means that the death will be investigated to ascertain if it is indeed a case of murder.

The media’s job is to in fact highlight these nuances instead of trying to stir the pot further.

As Firstpost commentator Rajyasree Sen put it, Twitter has turned into a “desi version of CSI starring journalists, academics, and a perpetually disgruntled politician who moonlight as crime detectives during their off hours” and consider Twitter a perfectly suitable platform to trade pet conspiracy theories as if they were sitting in their living room.


But Headlines Today has upped the ante by pandering to that prurient desire to wallow in the details of the crime. As it puts helpful little red circles around bruises; informs the viewer about blue needle marks they cannot see but which we are told solemnly are injection marks; opines that based on the pictures it can tell that the “scene of crime has been dressed up”, it is going far beyond merely reporting on an ongoing case. It is far worse when a television channel thinks fit to leak what it calls “explosive revelations,” and ventures into the dangerous terrain of playing crime investigator based on leaks and gossip. The only difference is TV stops at naming names and talks vaguely and ominously about the “needle of suspicion” instead.

The lowest moment in the footage is when – to ensure that the viewer doesn’t miss a single moment of this tawdry expose -- the anchor says “we have to go through them slowly so viewers understand” because “we have to try and be as sensitive as possible.”

Well, it’s a little late for that.

This isn’t just about sparing Shashi Tharoor’s feelings. Sunanda Pushkar has other family as well including her son. It’s bad enough to know someone you loved and cared for might have been poisoned but then to have these very private photographs tossed out into the public domain for the world to gawk at must feel like a dreadful violation – an unbearable compounding of grief and loss.

Besides, what is the justification for such a violation? What public good is served by the pictures of the dead Sunanda in her hotel roomWere the police denying or unaware of any of these marks on Sunanda’s body? Is it to stir outrage as those images of the teenagers hanging from a tree in Badaun were supposed to? There is no miscarriage of justice or failure to investigate which requires shocking the public into attention. “We are doing the needful and the enquiry is on,” the Delhi police commissioner told the media. Tharoor has said he “anxious to see this case is investigated thoroughly” and pledged “his full cooperation”. The police have outlined their next steps including sending the viscera abroad for follow up tests.

Given the circumstances, Headlines Today can hardly pretend it is breaching ethics to serve a larger principle. It is grossly disingenuous to dress up these photographs to look like the journalistic pursuit of truth and justice. Let’s call it what it is: a hunt for TRPs at the expense of a dead woman’s body.

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