Since the morning of July 18, 2012 activities at the residence of actor Rajesh Khanna indicated there may be bad news. Parts of his house in Mumbai were being covered with white sheets and truck loads of chairs were being delivered. Given his illness it was fair to assume he must have died. Some news channels were already running programmes on the life and times of RK and he was indeed confirmed dead in the afternoon of July 18. It’s no big secret that when a public figure falls seriously ill or is hospitalised with a serious condition, the news media quickly put together an obituary just in case.. They leave a few blanks to be filled in when the final bad news is confirmed. However, in the age of 24X7 news some seem to be in a hurry to wish death to people who haven’t died yet.
In the past some deaths have been announced by confusion or accident. If not for the wrong news of Alfred Nobel’s death calling him “Merchant of death” or “Dynamite man” (For having invented the dynamite) there wouldn’t have been a Nobel Prize at all. Alfred Nobel didn’t want to be remembered as the ‘Dynamite man’ so he instituted the Nobel Prize and that became his legacy. But his case can be forgiven as an honest mistake by newspapers. Not so CNN who had a page open to public that had obituaries of many living people. CNN was just ‘well-prepared’ in case these people were to die without notice. (Read the last segment on this Wikipedia page).
That’s not all, Dick Cheney, who had just become Vice President in 2001, had an obituary for a life from 1941-2001. I quote from the Wiki page: The CNN page had advanced obituaries written for Fidel Castro, Dick Cheney, Nelson Mandela, Bob Hope, Gerald Ford, Pope John Paul II, and Ronald Reagan. Some of these obituaries contained fragments taken from others, particularly from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's obituary, which had apparently been used as a template. Dick Cheney for example was described as the 'UK's favourite grandmother', the site noted the Pope's 'love of racing', and described Castro as 'lifeguard, athlete, movie star' (a reference to Ronald Reagan). The number of people declared dead prematurely run into hundreds. Even Paul McCartney, at the height of Beatlemania in 1966, was reported dead.
We could dismiss all this as being ‘well prepared’ for an uncertain certainty. But lately, the Indian media has overtaken their western counterparts. They are not just keeping obituaries ready but once a serious illness or hospitalisation is reported, they are declaring people dead well before they actually die.
Here’s the image of a news item on the internet from Manorama-Online. They declared wrestler and actor Dara Singh dead three days ahead of his actual death. Dara Singh was declared dead by ManoramaOnline on Monday July 9, 2012 when he was still alive. He actually died on July 12, three days later. Well, you can’t complain about our enthusiastic news media being ahead of time. Even though many observers pointed out this serious mistake to Manorama they neither retracted their news page nor apologise for the premature pronouncement. The page was finally quietly pulled many days later without a word. But I keep saying in this day and age it’s difficult to hide bloopers. (Image from @surnell).
In case you didn’t know, Jayprakash Narayan, the socialist leader who led the revolution against the Indira Gandhi govt in the 70s was declared dead prematurely. "Jayaprakash Narayan: while hospitalized in March 1979, the politician's death was erroneously announced by India's prime minister, causing a brief wave of national mourning, including the suspension of parliament and regular radio broadcasting, and closure of schools and shops. The mistake arose when the director of the Intelligence Bureau saw a body looking like Narayan being carried from hospital. Narayan died in October, 1979”. (This is from the same Wiki page link I have provided earlier in this post. Look under ‘N’). That’s a govt declaring a well-known leader dead and declaring mourning 7 months in advance.
The latest victim to be killed by the media is none other than Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Deshmukh has been hospitalised with kidney and liver problems and is in a critical condition at the time of writing this. Yes, it does look like survival may be difficult unless he gets transplants that work or some miracle. But he’s still alive. Er.. Not according to DNA newspaper though! On the evening of August 7 at 18.55 DNA declared Deshmukh dead. (Image from @Equateall). Naturally, many people on the internet circulated this news. Even online news magazine FirstPost tweeted the death of Deshmukh based on the DNA report without verifying.
I was surprised, because none of the news channels, who are usually in a race to break news, were even reporting this in their scrolls. And then I checked other sources on the net and on all TV channels and had to conclude this was another ‘Wish-you-happy-death’ report. Many on twitter pointed this out to DNA but typically they did not apologise for this mistake but pulled their page within minutes.
What can one say! Next time you hear a report about some public figure, some celebrity or even a private individual passing away, make sure you check twice with alternate sources. In this age of competition among news outlets to even break news about deaths it almost sounds like they are wishing people a happy death, in advance.