Caroline Flack: Govt trying to avoid debating petitions calling for stricter media laws, campaigners allege

May 13, 2020

Campaigners have criticised the government for using "loopholes" to "avoid" debating calls for stricter media laws made in petitions set up in the wake of the death of TV star Caroline Flack.

At least three petitions were launched after the Love Island presenter took her own life in February, with the biggest, calling for "Caroline's Law", amassing more than 862,000 signatures.

Flack had been due to go on trial for allegedly assaulting her boyfriend when she died, and had been subject to much scrutiny in the press and on social media in the weeks after she was charged.

The Caroline's Law petition, calling for press harassment to be made a criminal offence "not dissimilar to corporate manslaughter", was delivered to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) by the 38 Degrees campaign group at the beginning of March.

They say they have had no response.

And campaigner Joshua Brandwood, who set up a separate petition calling for a fresh inquiry into the British tabloids, gathering more than 270,000 signatures, has now been told it has been rejected for debate in a letter from Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg.

In a letter sent to Mr Brandwood's Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith, Mr Rees-Mogg said the petition could not be debated because it was set up on the Change.org website and not the official government site - despite the fact this option was unavailable at the time due to parliament's dissolution ahead of the election in December.

Mr Brandwood says the response is "dismissive and completely invalid", telling Sky News he had "no choice other than to set the petition up elsewhere as the parliament e-petitions website was down at the time" - something Mr Rees-Mogg acknowledges in his letter.

"It is grossly unfair to the millions of people across the country seeking justice for Caroline and others who have been harassed and vilified by the press," Mr Brandwood said.

"I will not rest until my petition is considered and debated by parliament."

Mr Brandwood says he acknowledges "there were likely multiple factors that played a part in Caroline's decision to take her life" but that he believes she was "harassed" by certain media outlets.

"Many would agree that an inquiry into the tabloids is long overdue," he said. "Politicians and the public alike have been calling for another press inquiry for over a decade, but it doesn't seem to be at the top of the government's agenda."

Holly Maltby, from 38 Degrees, said they are still waiting for a response to their petition.

"More than 860,000 people have called on the government to end bullying and harassment in the media, and toughen up regulation to hold the press to account," she told Sky News.

"Since then 38 Degrees has collected thousands of case studies from the public who have also been victim to bullying by parts of the press, and submitted a mass complaint to [newspapers and magazines regulator] IPSO to try to get action.

"This huge and clear public outcry should be reason enough for the government to debate this issue."

Speaking about Mr Brandwood's petition being rejected, Ms Maltby said: "The fact that the Leader of the House of Commons is using small print and loopholes to avoid debating what the government should do to end bullying and harassment in parts of our press is doing the public a disservice. 860,000 people will hope he reconsiders."

A third petition signed by more than 820,000 people was set up by actress Stephanie Davis, calling for "new and stricter laws around safeguarding celebrities and people in the public eye".

Decisions around whether to debate petitions are taken by the petitions committee, rather than individual government departments.

A DCMS spokesperson said they could not give details on individual petitions.

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