DEBATE: What can we learn from Caroline Flack’s death?

By Oscar Duffy, Maddy Burt, and

Caroline Flack’s suicide on February 15th has lead to an outpouring of public opinion. The Love Island presenter had been in the media spotlight for over a decade, whilst she was also under investigation for an alleged assault on her boyfriend Lewis Burton. But what is the purpose of public grief, if nothing in society changes? Palatinate asked three writers to give their opinion on what we can learn from Caroline Flack’s death.

Oscar Duffy: Let’s not turn Caroline Flack’s tragic death into a campaign against the Crown Prosecution Service 

In a tragic turn on Saturday 15th February, former Love Island host Caroline Flack was found dead in her home in East London, having committed suicide. Her death comes after months of discussion and scrutiny following her alleged assault on boyfriend Lewis Burton, something that cost her the hosting gig and had her scheduled for a trial in the coming weeks.

Since then, Caroline’s suicide has sparked an explosive reaction, and the implications are multifaceted, far-reaching and controversial. While most of the conversation has surrounded the role of the media in hounding Flack to an extent that she would consider taking her own life, there is also a dangerous precedent at play of laying blame onto the Crown Prosecution Service.

The CPS has come under fire for their apparent harshness in pursuing prosecution, despite protestations from Flack and her boyfriend (i.e. the victim himself). Ex-boyfriend and rugby star Danny Cipriani has come forward recently arguing that the CPS “didn’t do a good job” in the case, citing the separation of Flack and her boyfriend as evidence.

In truth however, it’s rash to make this observation. The service cannot proceed in future assuming that the accused are going to act in the way that Flack has. They deemed the crime worthy of prosecution, and it should not matter that the victim did not want to press charges. If deemed in the public interest, it is right to push for a conviction and go through the necessary procedures of separating them, as the specific crime involved violent behaviour between the pair. Blaming the authorities is a slippery slope, and to assume a cynicism on the CPS’ part is to do disservice to their integrity as an institution. 

Because let’s not forget, this all began because Caroline Flack was accused of a violent act, one that many rightly thought deserved justice without resorting to abuse. Regardless of how it has ended, the CPS should not be condemned for doing their job, and arguably doing it well. The fact that criticism has exploded in this way, encompassing not just the media but also the authorities illustrates the extreme anger over the issue.

Only changing reading habits will alter the actions of tabloid journalists

Going forward, something clearly needs to come from this, because the reaction to the suicide shows the escalation of anger over these Love Island-related tragedies. The core antagonisers were the press, but it’s going to be difficult to curb their comments.

We as a society dictate what we read, so top-down regulation could prove more difficult and irresponsible than it looks on paper. Only changing reading habits will alter the actions of tabloid journalists. It’s quite possible that anger at the prosecution service may have been due to the different perception between themselves and the press. The latter’s reputation is built on numerous controversies and generally being morally bankrupt. Railing against the media is old news, so arguably a more useful target for some is the body that are supposedly on our side: the legal system. 

Maddy Burt: The press needs to change before this happens again

As is often the case with someone taking their own life, a real sense of injustice prevails that the world failed them and they should have been offered more, be it help or support or love. With the recent death of Caroline Flack, a familiar face for many from X-factor, Strictly Come Dancing and presenter of Love Island, such a sense of injustice is present. Perhaps more so because such a death is not unfamiliar to us, with two previous contestants of Love Island also taking their own lives. The questions remain, how could this tragedy happen again, and who is to blame? 

Flack presented Love Island since its 2015 relaunch (Image credit: Amg80 via Flickr)

Caroline was a classic example of a star who the media turned against very quickly and very hard. When preparing to stand trial for assault on her boyfriend the media was relentless, with some articles so strong that since her death the outlooks that published them have quickly deleted them. Without dismissing that she was standing for trial for a serious offence, it is still clear that there is hypocrisy in those outlooks deleting such articles and then writing of her death with links to mental health charities with whom they partner. 

After all, there’s freedom of speech and then there’s blatant abuse of such freedom

Lessons need to be learnt here, lessons that have needed to be learnt for years in both traditional and social media. Contestants of Love Island are often treated particularly harshly by both forms of media. The show itself is extremely problematic, because it thrives off of viewers watching and commenting on the islanders, both negatively and positively. A game, scrapped in the recent series but up until then in the show, was reading out mean tweets from the public for the islanders to guess which of them the tweets were about. The islanders leave the isolated villa and are bombarded with life in the spotlight that leaves many with serious mental health problems. As the presenter, Caroline too at times faced a media onslaught. Love Island needs to go, and with it so do constant negative and hateful comments posted for the world and the recipient to see. 

After all, there’s freedom of speech and then there’s blatant abuse of such freedom. The press, along with social media, needs to face more regulation, including self-regulation. This also includes the viewers and the readers. When we give into clickbait and read hateful articles or share hateful comments, we support such messages, inadvertently or not. We all need to be held accountable and hold others to account. Caroline’s death should be the last of its kind, and it’s devastating that it has made it to this point with the media, for whatever part it played in this tragedy.

Maya Bagshaw: To paparazzi and tabloids looking for a cheap sell, to trolls hiding behind a keyboard – enough

Presenter Laura Whitmore’s appeal to her Radio 5 listeners after the death of her close friend and former Love Island presenter Caroline Flack last week. Flack had been subject to intense media scrutiny after she was arrested in December for an alleged assault on her boyfriend Lewis Burton. Flack’s tragic death is one of many recent cases which have raised questions about media ethics, and the fine line between free speech and bullying.

The tabloids had hounded Flack since her arrest, headlines included ‘Flack’s bedroom bloodbath’ alongside an exclusive photograph of bloodied sheets, and ‘Caroline Whack’ to accompany an article about her alleged abuse. Paparazzi surrounded her on the day of her hearing, forcing cameras into her face to capture pictures of the disgraced star.

Even the day before her death, two months after her initial arrest, the Sun published an article about a Valentine’s day card mocking her. Naturally, it was swiftly deleted after broke of her passing. This negative media accumulated to fuel vicious attacks against Flack on social media platforms, people labelling her a ‘domestic abuser’ despite having no knowledge of the details of the case. People appeared to have forgotten the legal right of ‘Innocent until proven guilty’, it was not down to the public to decide Flack’s fate.

Friends of Flack blamed the tabloids and social media trolls for contributing to her suicide, they had bullied her, conduced her poor mental state, they said. She was going through enough in her personal life without the spiteful commentary of complete strangers.

Often when the media is held responsible for incidents such as this, the default response is to claim that everyone is entitled to ‘free speech’. Every person has the right to voice their opinion without penalty, to prohibit this is an infringement on our fundamental rights. This proclamation in turn causes many to raise the question, ‘What is the difference between free speech and bullying, and where do we draw the line?’

Free speech is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the freedom to express one’s opinions without censorship, legal penalty, etc.; freedom of expression.’ To bully is to act with ‘overbearing insolence; personal intimidation; petty tyranny.’ It is within everybody’s right to express their opinion, but to express this persistently to the person of interest, to mock their dire situation, to consistently publish slandering, denigrating articles which in turn incite social media users to publish malicious messages- this seems to veer considerably more into the realm of bullying than free speech.

People undoubtedly have the right to express their opinion, but they do not possess the right to directly express that opinion to the person of interest. Discussion is always valuable, but this can be contained within a group of friends or family- we do not need to publish potentially harmful opinions about people online.

What we choose to read affects what’s written, every impulse click onto a gossip site leads to more reads

What we must remember is tabloids exist for profit, they will publish the stories with the most captivating titles with the intention of generating the most clicks. Often, they will go to extreme and potentially damaging ends to achieve this. We must not take their deceptive articles as the basis for our beliefs.

In the wake of Caroline’s death, I have made a renewed commitment to avoid falling for clickbait articles. What we choose to read affects what’s written, every impulse click onto a gossip site leads to more reads, and in turn delivers the message that we are complicit in their shameless conduct. We must move away from the growing trend of tearing people apart for entertainment- whether that be those in the public eye or regular people. As emphasised by Flack months before her death ‘In a world where you can be anything, be kind.’

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Image credit: Trending Topics 2019 via Flickr

One thought on “DEBATE: What can we learn from Caroline Flack’s death?

  • Firstly, thank you for offering the opportunity to respond to this difficult case.

    Although it is saddening to hear that Caroline Flack was suffering from mental health issues and subsequently committed suicide we have to consider that she was no angel, and should not be martyred.

    What we have here is a domestic abuser, both in a physical and emotional capacity. Imagine how the media may have reacted if Caroline was in fact Ken Flack. Ken repeatedly attacked his partner and took away her individual rights. His partner became a shell of her former self, locking herself away from society, too embarrassed and afraid to be herself. She was also encouraged to cut ties with her family in order to isolate her. With no access to the support she needs, she decides that the only way out is to finally press charges. On hearing that he would have to answer for his crimes, with enough evidence to reveal his guilt, he commits suicide. How does this story feel now? Does this somehow feel like Ken got his comeuppance? The fact is, abuse is wrong, no matter the background, mental state or gender of the abuser. It cannot be condoned and it gives a very disturbing message to the public if excuses can be found as long as the abuser is attractive or famous. To cite another famous abuser, the Jimmy Saville case. A different type of abuser, not brought to justice. How do you feel about the story now? Think before you side with abusers and bullies. There is no excuse.

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