Caroline Flack: Press coverage of death prompts complaints to watchdog

The Independent Press Standards Organisation says it has received complaints after cause of death included in MailOnline, Sun and Telegraph headlines

Vincent Wood
Wednesday 19 February 2020 19:05 GMT
TV presenter Caroline Flack found dead aged 40

Almost 30 complaints about the Mail Online have been made to the press regulator after it shared details of Caroline Flack’s death in a manner critics have called “reckless, irresponsible and dangerous”.

Flack’s cause of death was announced by Poplar Coroner’s Court on Wednesday morning, with an inquest hearing she had taken her own life at her home in east London four days ago.

The 29 complaints about MailOnline were made to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) after details of the cause of her death were included in a headline and repeated through a push notification on the publication's app.

The press watchdog also received one complaint each about how the story was reported in The Sun and The Telegraph.

The coverage is not believed to have breached Ipso’s Editors’ Code of Practice, under which newspapers and magazines agree to “avoid excessive detail of the method used” when reporting on suicide to “prevent simulative acts”.

However, including method of suicide in headlines is contrary to guidelines issued by the Samaritans, which works closely with media organisations on best practice for reporting suicide. The charity suggests avoiding giving stories excessive prominence or putting the cause of death in headlines.

A breaking news tweet from MailOnline carrying the details has since been deleted. A headline outlining Flack’s cause of death remains on the website.

A spokesperson for the Samaritans said: “Celebrity deaths draw a lot of media attention, which can significantly increase the risk of imitational suicide behaviour. Research constantly demonstrates links between types of media coverage and an increase in suicide rates. This week, we are asking media to remember Samaritans Media Guidelines on reporting suicide.

“Responsible reporting of suicide can have a positive effect by encouraging people to seek help, and irresponsible reporting can be harmful.”

Under current rules, Ipso will only investigate the coverage around the reporting of Flack’s death if one of the complaints came from a member of her family.

The former Love Island presenter’s death at age 40 has reignited an ongoing debate in the relationship between press freedom, celebrity privacy and the justice system. Flack had been the subject of a number of articles after she was charged with assaulting her boyfriend following a domestic incident in December.

Nathan Sparkes, policy director for campaign group Hacked Off, which has called for the creation of a new independent press regulator, said: “The reckless, irresponsible and dangerous decision of the Mail to ignore these guidelines [on reporting suicides] in pursuit of clicks and a quick headline shows complete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of the public and, in particular, those struggling with their mental health.”

The Independent has contacted MailOnline and The Telegraph for comment. The Sun declined to comment on the complaints.

UPDATE (20.02.20): This article has been updated to include information relating to the number of complaints which IPSO has received in respect of coverage of the cause of Caroline Flack’s death published by Mail Online, The Sun and The Daily Telegraph. The coverage is not believed to have breached the Editors’ Code of Practice.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

For services local to you, the national mental health database – Hub of Hope – allows you to enter your postcode to search for organisations and charities who offer mental health advice and support in your area.

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