Sadly, the media has invited strong criticism from several quarters about the importance accorded to death as well as funeral of Sridevi.
Sadly, the media has invited strong criticism from several quarters about the importance accorded to death as well as funeral of Sridevi. Now, is the media to be blamed for state honours accorded to Sridevi and her body being wrapped in the national flag? Of course, deliberating on who should be blamed for this and should she have been accorded state honours or not is another issue. But one does wonder as to whether this has set the trend for Bollywood celebrities to be accorded similar state honours and would controversies be sparked if they are or are not? With respect to media coverage accorded to Sridevi and several debates over her death, would it be fair to blame the media for going overboard?
Sridevi was after all a popular and successful star. One of the key jobs of the media is to tap on popular culture and work on news associated with the same. Sridevi is not the first or the only celebrity to have received such coverage. In comparison to coverage accorded to Princess Diana’s funeral and debates raised over the nature of her death, Sridevi has received much lesser attention. In fact, oft and on, debates as well as discussions continue to be held over Diana’s death. “News” still floats easily over whether Diana’s death was really caused by accident. Live telecast of her funeral had almost the entire world glued to the small screen till she was laid to rest.
So why blame the media for, as it is said, going “overboard” in Sridevi’s case? There is nothing surprising about media lens remaining focused on celebrities and other personalities in the limelight about “news” regarding them. If Sridevi was still around, not many would have learnt about her visit to Dubai to attend her nephew’s marriage. At most, the dress she wore for the wedding may have received a little attention. Besides, had she been ailing and nearing 70, 80 or more, coverage accorded to her death would probably have been much less. But as she hadn’t yet touched 55 and died in unnatural circumstances, it has been but natural for the media to accord it greater “news” value than it may have otherwise.
One perspective criticising media coverage is that privacy of Sridevi and her family members has been intruded into. Yes, the privacy has been invaded. Well, there is nothing surprising about this. When has celebrities’ privacy been spared? Rather, extra-efforts are continuously made to “investigate”, find details and let the people know the spicy, interesting and similar details about celebrities’ lives which are likely to attract attention. However “private affair” Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma’s marriage may have been, media lens did not spare them. The photograph of the bedroom where the newly-married couple spent their first night was also somehow managed. Neither apparently has expressed any qualms about their privacy being “intruded” into. Rather, being celebrities, they probably expected it.
Now and then, once politically dominant politically figures’ personal lives — with special focus on their “romance” — are paid greater attention than the political and diplomatic legacies they left behind. These include stories — with or without “news value” about late Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Married life of Priyanka Gandhi and Robert Vadra has also not been ignored. However, recently, soon after “news” floated about their marriage being on rocks, a photograph of the two happily in each other’s company was enough to defeat this speculation. And these are just a few minor incidents of privacy of celebrities being intruded into primarily when it is assumed to have some news appeal in the domain of popular culture.
Yes, where popular culture is concerned, romance, suspense, marriages taking place or breaking, some violence, even their pregnancy, giving birth and so much more linked with celebrities’ lives bears a lot of importance. For the sake of yielding to what appeals most to people in general, the media cannot be expected to ignore events bearing even a little news value in the celebrity world. Think again, it is not without reason that several celebrities appear in advertisements, act as brand ambassadors and so forth.
Twenty years have passed since Princess Diana’s death. Originally, as sources indicate, her funeral was planned to be a private affair. She was however honoured with a public funeral with more than three million people taking part in it and nearly an equally number viewing it or listening about it. Her funeral is viewed as one of the most watched in history. But the media has yet to be criticised strongly for substantial coverage accorded to Diana. If she was a princess, Sridevi was a superstar. Compared to media coverage given to Diana’s death and funeral, that accorded to Sridevi is much lesser. And the Indian media is still being blamed for going overboard in Sridevi’s case.
Unwritten norms of celebrity culture, Sridevi’s sudden death at 54 and people’s reaction simply set the agenda for media coverage, but not for the state honours. Seriously speaking, had coverage been confined to a few lines and at most a few minutes on screen, questions would have been raised on media ethics. The media would then have been definitely blamed for not doing justice to Sridevi!
The writer is a senior journalist. She has come out with two books Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp and Image and Substance: Modi’s First Year in Office