On Sunday it was reported that 40-year old British television presenter, Caroline Flack, had died by suicide at her London home.
“We can confirm that our Caroline passed away today, the 15th of February,” her family said in a statement. “We would ask that the press respect the privacy of the family at this difficult time and we would ask they make no attempt to contact us and/or photograph us.”
While Flack might not as be widely known in Australia, in the UK she was a household name.
Everybody at Love Island and ITV is shocked and saddened by this desperately sad news. Caroline was a much loved member of the Love Island team and our sincere thoughts and condolences are with her family and friends.
— ITV2 (@itv2) February 15, 2020
As the host of the ‘stratospheric’ reality TV show, Love Island, since 2015 as well as hosting the X-Factor and winning Strictly Come Dancing in 2014, she was a regular fixture on televisions in Britain. She was also fodder for the tabloid press.
To say the presenter, who is remembered as vivacious, bubbly and kind, was hounded by the press is no overstatement and her death has prompted many to contemplate the toll this took.
If a celebrity dies by suicide after a massive media onslaught this is manslaughter via the press. The media love ticking boxes and doing their mental health campaigns but fail to take any accountability when they impact people’s health.
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) February 15, 2020
Flack’s friend and colleague Laura Whitmore spoke on her BBC radio show about exactly this.
“To the press, the newspapers, who create clickbait, who demonise and tear down success, we’ve had enough,” Whitmore said in an emotional speech at the start of her weekly BBC Radio 5 live show.
“I’ve seen journalists and Twitter warriors talk of this tragedy and they themselves twisted what the truth is … Your words affect people. To paparazzi and tabloids looking for a cheap sell, to trolls hiding behind a keyboard, enough.”
"I'm going to talk about her and give her the respect that she deserves and that she didn't always get"
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) February 16, 2020
Flack’s personal life was relentlessly examined by the press, with every twist and turn photographed, reported and documented.
This ratcheted up significantly in December 2019 when Flack was arrested for allegedly assaulting her boyfriend, Lewis Burton, at the home they shared.
A few days after her arrest she was forced to step back from presenting the first ever winter season of Love Island. Burton didn’t want to press charges but the Crown Prosecution Service opted to pursue legal action anyway. She was informed on Friday that a trial would be going ahead in early March.
Flack’s management have been highly critical of the CPS.
“In recent months Caroline had been under huge pressure because of an ongoing case and potential trial which has been well reported,” her management said in a statement.
“The Crown Prosecution Service pursued this when they knew not only how very vulnerable Caroline was but also that the alleged victim did not support the prosecution and had disputed the CPS version of events.”
It is not unprecedented for authorities to pursue charges in these circumstances. It happens in Australia too and parties changing their mind about exactly what happened is also not unprecedented. What authorities choose to do in those circumstances is fraught.
In Caroline Flack’s case her boyfriend and alleged victim immediately disputed the CPS’ version of events and challenged the bail conditions which prevented them from seeing on another.
Lewis wrote on Instagram at the time: “It’s heartbreaking I can’t see my girlfriend over Christmas. What I witnessed today was horrible. She did not hit me with a lamp. Arguments do happen every day in every relationship. Gutted I am not allowed to protect her right now.”
View this post on Instagram
My heart is broken we had something so special. I am so lost for words I am in so much pain I miss you so much I know you felt safe with me you always said I don’t think about anything else when I am with you and I was not allowed to be there this time I kept asking and asking. I will be your voice baby I promise I will ask all the questions you wanted and I will get all the answers nothing will bring you back but I will try make you proud everyday. I love you with all my heart 💔
If Flack did not assault Lewis and was being charged anyway that is obviously highly distressing and hugely problematic.
But, if the genders were swapped, and it was a female victim who immediately defended an alleged male perpetrator after police had been called there would it be so clear?
Two camps have emerged in the aftermath of Flack’s death, that it’s either the tabloid press or the CPS wholly to blame.
Suicide is rarely the result of a single factor but it’s worth considering the damage that is, and can be, inflicted by relentless media pursuit as ‘entertainment’.
Flack had spoken honestly over the years about her own mental health struggles with depression and anxiety. About being human in the face of fame.
Caroline Flack opens up about her mental health struggles: "Be nice to people. You never know what’s going on. Ever.” https://t.co/a8fnn0yBNG
— HuffPost UK Entertainment (@HuffPostUKEnt) October 15, 2019
It is difficult to imagine a person unaffected by depression or anxiety being able to withstand the torture of living with the magnifying glass of the paparazzi and tabloid press permanently fixed upon the minutia of their life for years on end. For a person who is affected? Vulnerability is guaranteed.
Throw in the associated online abuse that inevitably accompanies this type of media coverage and it’s evidently a recipe for total tragedy.
View this post on Instagram
I wanted to write something about mental health day last week but I was knee deep in work. And some days it’s hard to write your feelings of your not in the right place. The last few weeks I’ve been in a really weird place… I find it hard to talk about it .. I guess it’s anxiety and pressure of life … and when I actually reached out to someone they said I was draining. I feel like this is why some people keep their emotions to themselves. I certainly hate talking about my feelings. And being a burden is my biggest fear…. I’m lucky to be able to pick myself up when things feel shit. But what happens if someone can’t . Be nice to people. You never know what’s going on . Ever
The fact some outlets have already taken down negative stories about Flack they had previously published with no qualms confirms they know, on some level, the coverage that passed as news was problematic.
Caroline Flack is being remembered as a woman who was deeply loved, talented, hardworking and kind. Her death at age 40 is a total tragedy.
The fact it’s valid to consider if she was hounded to death by the press only makes it worse.
If you or someone you know needs support, you can contact:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
Mensline: 1300 789 978