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Why is it that alcohol use and even drugs, are seen as minor mistakes by men, but evidence of women’s ‘loose’ character?
Rakul Preet Singh would have certainly felt vindicated when as a recent news report indicated, the courts ordered TV channels to apologise to her.
The apology was for their malicious and baseless coverage of her in relation to the so-called ‘drugs scandal’ after the death of fellow actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
On Thursday, News Broadcasting Standard Authority (NBSA) directed Zee News, Zee24 and Zee Hindustani to air an apology to Rakul Preet Singh on December 17th. This is a welcome order that was long overdue but this sheds light, once again, on the unequal treatment women receive from the mainstream media.
In September 2020, Rakul Preet Singh filed a plea in the Delhi High court against reports that linked her to drugs in the wake of the Sushant Singh Rajput case. These reports claimed that Rhea Chakraborty had named Singh as a habitual abuser of drugs (which Rhea Chakraborty subsequently denied by issuing a statement). Various slanderous and misleading hashtags, taglines and photographs were also circulated by media houses which created a false impression of the complainant in the minds of the public.
Times Now, IndiaTV, India Today, News Nation, Aaj Tak and ABP News have also been instructed to remove their online reports and social media posts. While this is a much-needed decision, let’s look at how the media tried to malign and shame certain women, particularly from the film industry, by broadcasting unsubstantiated accusations.
The second half of this year saw news channels incessantly targeting female actors, beginning with Rhea Chakraborty, to a number of others including Rakul Preet Singh and Deepika Padukone. They were accused of consuming or peddling drugs, without any real proof. The media trial sparked off a social media uproar against these women.
An example of the stark gender divide apparent is the treatment Sanjay Dutt received from media houses and the public at large. When he claimed having consumed every kinds of drug available, the same media houses were by and large sympathetic. Some even valorised him for trying to fight the addiction. Yet, women who were accused of consuming drugs were vilified, called in to police stations for questioning, television channels chased behind their vehicles, they were abused and even accused of force-feeding drugs to their partners.
This makes it very apparent how the media (and our society at large) still holds women to higher moral standards. These sensationalised reports have their roots in the years of patriarchal conditioning that every individual is subjected to.
Activities considered ‘natural’ for men to participate in, ranging from smoking, drinking alcohol to staying out late, draw censure and vilification for women. Such women are called names, villainised, and even ‘cancelled’, if popular.
The witch-hunt by the news broadcasters proved that this targeting of women who are seen as not living up to the moral standards set for them is rooted in patriarchal constructs of what a ‘good woman’ is like, and what her duties are.
Therefore, even though the instructions to the news channels to extend apologies to Rakul Preet Singh are welcome, this is just the beginning. Media houses have got to stop playing with the lives and careers of women just for cheap TRPs.
Top image is a still from the Telugu movie NGK
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An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional
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