A petition calling on the U.K. government to launch an inquiry into British media coverage of public figures has garnered close to 206,000 signatures.
The death of former “Love Island” host Caroline Flack, one of the country’s most popular TV personalities, spurred the initiative, which asks government to investigate the press following “the maltreatment of those in the public eye including Caroline Flack, (Prince Harry) and Meghan Markle, to name a few.”
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“The headlines, harassment and trial by media has to end and they must be held accountable,” reads the petition, which was created by user Joshua Anthony and addressed to Oliver Dowden, the U.K.’s newly installed culture secretary.
Flack was found dead by suicide in her London apartment on Feb. 15. The 40-year-old star was set to face trial on March 4, months after she was arrested and charged with assault in December following a domestic dispute with boyfriend Lewis Burton. Flack, who appeared in court in December, denied all allegations.
The Change.org petition was set up after news broke of Flack’s death on Saturday evening and, at time of publication, is well on its way to reaching its goal of 300,000 signatures.
Flack’s boyfriend Burton has spoken out about Flack’s death, saying his “heart is broken” and adding that he was “not allowed to be there this time. I kept asking and asking.” Flack had been banned from any contact with Burton before the trial.
British tabloids such as The Sun are being targeted for negative coverage of Flack in recent months, and The Sun has deleted at least one article about the TV host. The outlet posted a news piece as recently as Friday about a Valentine’s Day card mocking the presenter’s alleged assault of Burton, but that article is no longer available on its website.
“Caroline’s Law” has also been trending on Twitter in the U.K., with users calling for a new law preventing libellous coverage by the press.
A public inquiry known as the Leveson Inquiry was launched in 2011 on the back of the phone hacking scandal that led to the shuttering of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday tabloid News of the World. The inquiry looked to investigate the practices and ethics of the press, and ultimately recommended a new, legally recognized media regulator – the formation of which is still in process.
Tributes have poured in for Flack overnight, with “Miranda” and “Call the Midwife” star Miranda Hart sharing a post on Twitter discussing media accountability.
“A celebrity status does not mean immunity from feeling and suffering. In fact, it is obviously something that comes with a degree of responsibility and vulnerability. It is not in any circumstances in the public interest to report that someone is looking tired, or fat, or thin, or a mess or ill,” wrote Hart.
“The reality is her death may not change accountability in journalism and the words behind the trolling and the bullying. But I think we can all agree that deep down no one wants anyone to suffer, certainly not to the level that they may take their own life.”
The U.K.’s intense media scrutiny of public figures has been keenly followed and debated in recent months following Meghan Markle’s lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday, which published a letter she wrote to her father, Thomas Markle. The media’s pursuit of Markle and husband Prince Harry contributed to the couple’s divorce from the royal family and relocation to Canada.
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