‘My whole world was swept from under my feet’

Caroline Flack: The inquest into the death of the former Love Island host opened yesterday. © Getty

Should there be a “Caroline’s law”? After the reality TV presenter tragically took her own life, friends and politicians are calling on new media regulation to prevent merciless bullying.

She was not allowed to see her boyfriend, waiting to stand trial for assaulting him with a lamp.

She was stopped from presenting Love Island, the show that had made her a household name.

The press would not stop publishing damning articles about her private life.

Anonymous critics were even more remorseless online.

Then 40-year-old, British TV presenter Caroline Flack took her own life.

For almost 20 years, she graced the UK’s screens, hosting major shows such as X Factor and I’m A Celebrity.

In the aftermath of her suicide, a petition was set up. It called for a new law that would criminalise the media for “knowingly and relentlessly bullying a person [...] up to the point that they take their own life”. The petition has so far received over 700,000 signatures.

Her friends and other sympathisers believe that the British press, especially its controversy-hungry tabloids, was at least partly to blame for the rapid demise of Caroline’s mental health.

They argue that the constant reminders of every mistake and the public character assassination were the worst example of cancel culture. Online, the media barrage was amplified by social media users feeding their own egos by being mean to a famous figure.

But – as is often the case with such high-profile tragedies – this is probably not the full story.

Numerous mental health professionals have warned that it is unwise to attribute suicide to any one cause or single individual.

Notably, Caroline Flack was the third person associated with Love Island to commit suicide. Two contestants have also taken their lives over the last few years.

As one of the nation’s favourite celebrities, the accusation of assault completely derailed Caroline’s life. Although her boyfriend did not want to press charges, the Crown Prosecution Service felt entitled to restrict him seeing or speaking to Ms Flack for fear that it was an abusive relationship.

Tributes to the late presenter came in from far and wide. Online, many journalists immediately sounded their remorse.

Though hashtag #BeKind trended after her death, the cycle of abuse then turned to focus on her perceived bullies in the media.

So, should there be a “Caroline's law”?

Report the reporters

No. If there wasn’t such high demand for celebrity gossip from the public, there wouldn’t be so much of it. Accusing reporters of bullying prioritises individual sensitivities over objective truth. Journalism is both what is true and what matters to a broad audience. If celebrities are scared of negative media coverage, then they should avoid a career in the public eye.

Then again, all people – celebrities or not – deserve a degree of privacy. In our intensely interconnected world, it is impossible to avoid the cruel or accusatory things that get written. We should be stricter about how much negative press any publication can print about a single person. A change in the law could help save the lives of the most vulnerable people, no matter how famous.

You Decide

  1. Do you think that newspapers are guilty of bullying people?
  2. Is it ever right for the media to discuss the cause of someone’s suicide?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are a celebrity who is often discussed in the papers. Write a diary planning your day so that no negative stories are written about you.
  2. Find a tabloid article about Caroline Flack from before this month and rewrite it so that it doesn’t include any signs of bullying. Make a note of what you had to edit out.

Some People Say...

“Celebrity is the chastisement of merit and the punishment of talent.”

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In an unpublished Instagram post, Caroline Flack had written: “I’ve lost my job. My home. My ability to speak. And the truth has been taken out of my hands and used as entertainment.” The wording of the proposed law is: “make it a criminal offence, not dissimilar to Corporate Manslaughter, for the British Media to knowingly and relentlessly bully a person, whether they be in the public eye or not, up to the point that they take their own life”.
What do we not know?
We do not know how any future law would be able to define or identify ‘bullying’. We do not know who will be held criminally liable for any future suicides. Would it be the editor or the reporter? We also don’t know how much any one variable – the upcoming trial, the pain of her relationship, or the pressure from the media – contributed to her death.

Word Watch

Remorseless
Showing no guilt or sorrow.
Tabloids
Newspapers with smaller sized pages, traditionally more focused on gossip and attention-grabbing human interest stories, such as the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, and the Sun.
Cancel culture
Phenomena, mostly online, where one bad act and statement can make someone unwelcome and hated in public life.
Barrage
A consistent bombardment; lots of attacks.
Crown Prosecution Service
The CPS prosecutes criminal cases that have been investigated by the police and other investigative organisations in England and Wales. The CPS is independent, and makes decisions independently of the police and government.

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