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Before Caroline Flack, 3 major moments should have changed the British tabloids. They didn't.

This post deals with suicide and may be triggering for some readers.

Preposterous pile-ons are a timeless touchstone of British tabloids.

That much, we know.

This week, Love Island UK host Caroline Flack decided to end her own life. Her death, and the invasive media scrutiny that preceded it, is the latest tragedy to highlight the problematic tabloid culture that exists in Britain.

We do not know the private struggles Flack suffered from, but we do know that the brutal coverage of the television presenter was a powerful factor of her life in the public eye.

“The British Media is the cesspit of our society,” one Twitter user wrote in the wake of Flack’s passing.

Caroline Flack death
Caroline Flack was one of the most in-demand television presenters on British TV. Image: Getty.

It sparked an online petition advocating for "stricter laws" to prevent all media forms from "invading privacy and sharing private information that is detrimental to the celebrity, their mental health and those around them".

Since being launched on Monday, it has gained over 500,000 signatures.

But this isn't the first time British tabloids have come under criticism for their hounding and harassing. It is one of many.

Here are just some of the significant events that have seen Britain's press receive widespread condemnation.

Princess Diana

British tabloids
Princess Diana in 1997. Image:
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On the 31st of August, 1997, a paparazzi pursuit of Princess Diana turned fatal. The car carrying Princess Diana was speeding through the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris when it crashed, killing three: Princess Diana, her chauffeur Henri Paul and Diana's then-fiancee Dodi Al-Fayed.

An inquest into her death found that she was "unlawfully killed," concluding she may not have died if paparazzi hadn't been so recklessly tailing their car.

In 2017, Prince Harry told the BBC documentary Diana, 7 Days that the paparazzi who chased Diana took photos of her while she lay dying on the backseat, instead of helping her.

In the same documentary, Prince William spoke of his mother's private struggle with the press that preceded her death.

"We'd go looking for her to talk to, play, to do whatever, she'd be crying. And when that was the case it was to do with press," he said. "About every single time she went out, there'd be a pack of people waiting for her.

"And I mean a pack, like a pack of dogs, followed her, chased her, harassed her, called her names, spat at her, tried to get a reaction to get that photograph of her lashing out, get her upset."

It was no doubt a wake-up call for the press. But events since then suggest it was not as much of a wake-up call as some may have hoped.

The News of the World

In 2011, Britain's most successful tabloid, The News of the World, selling 2.6 million copies every week - shutdown overnight.

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It was all due to a phone-hacking scandal that saw the publication preside over one of the largest breaches of personal privacy in recorded history.

The paper, owned by Rupert Murdoch's media firm News Limited, knew about and commissioned phone hacks as a means of gaining access to private conversations and messages. There were over 4,000 well-known victims - including celebrities, royals, politicians and sports stars.

Upon the scandal becoming public news, James Murdoch admitted the newspaper had failed in its duty to keep checks on itself and that ‘a few wrongdoers’ had turned their newsroom bad. The impact was immediate, with advertisers pulling out and the newspaper therefore shutting down.

At least 500 journalists and staff lost their jobs in the closing of the 168-year-old paper.

Meghan Markle

British tabloids
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Image: Getty.

Since entering the British Royal Family in May 2018, there is no denying Meghan Markle has been intensely and unfairly scrutinised.

In October, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle filed a claim against the Mail on Sunday newspaper over the publication of a private letter.

"There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face – as so many of you can relate to – I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been," Prince Harry said in a public statement at the time.

"Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one. Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person.

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"I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

Though not related to this specific lawsuit, a comparison of headlines concerning the Duchess of Sussex and the Duchess of Cambridge demonstrates just that.

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When asked about the British press in October 2019, Markle admitted she was not prepared for the onslaught of negative media she received at the hands of the tabloids.

"I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip, but I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging... I never thought this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair. And that’s the part that’s really hard to reconcile."

Three months following that telling interview, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announced their decision to leave the Royal Family and move to Canada part-time.

The Duke of Sussex said, "there really was no other option".

The British tabloids and Caroline Flack.

Love Island deaths
Caroline Flack died by suicide on Saturday. Image: ITV.
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Caroline Flack was one of the most in-demand personalities on British TV, due to her hosting role on the wildly successful television show Love Island UK. 

In December of last year, Flack was charged with assaulting her partner, tennis player Lewis Burton.

She pleaded not guilty and her boyfriend released a statement defending her: "I'm tired of the lies and abuse aimed at my girlfriend. This is not a witch hunt, this is someone's life."

Nevertheless, the Crown Prosecution Service continued with the charges. Due to the media storm that ensued, Caroline Flack decided to step down from her hosting duties until further notice.

She was due for trial on March 4. But on Saturday in Britain, Flack was found dead in her London apartment.

In the wake of her death, the media coverage relating to Caroline's abuse allegation has been largely criticised. One British tabloid called the host "CAROLINE WHACK" in a resurfaced story last December.

On Valentine's Day this week, one day before her death, the same publication published an "exclusive" story highlighting a card with a drawing of the presenter accompanied with the words, "I’ll f*cking lamp you." Following the news of her death, that story was taken down. The article was just one of hundreds – if not thousands – in which Flack was targeted by the tabloids.

The 40-year-old's close friend Laura Whitmore, who succeeded Flack as host of Love Island, said on Monday: "To the press, the newspapers, who create clickbait, who demonise and tear down success, we've had enough.

"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."

Feature Image: Getty. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.


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