Random Musings: The Fourth Estate
On Mar 08, 2016
Journalism has always been referred to as the Fourth Estate beyond the three pillars of democracy and applied more appropriately in the Indian context serving as an independent view on the state of affairs.
Thomas Carlyle, who was one of the pioneers to use the term, referred to the role of journalism in his French Revolution as 'A Fourth Estate, of Able Editors, springs up, increases and multiplies; irrepressible, incalculable'.
He was indeed referring to the fearless group of individuals and media houses who stood to represent the reality without any bias and predetermined mindset. The role of journalists in the spirited journey of Indian Independence is a classic example of how much they can influence the social opinion for the good. Citizens form the pillar of any democracy and 'Informed' citizens help ensure its success and maturity. The primary role of media and the journalist is to showcase the facts without getting swayed by their personal beliefs, political ideologies or commercial interests.
Today, social media has started playing a significant role with a lot being floated around by individual opinion, blogs, tweets and posts, both authentic and otherwise. The swayed interests of the mainstream media, coupled with the influence/challenge from the social domain, seem to be bringing the role of fourth estate and its purpose under intense scrutiny.
One of the main objectives has been to find the truth and place it in the public domain without being judgmental about it. These days, media seems to be forgetting this role very conveniently. They claim to represent the truth but then the question is can the same truth have different conflicting versions from various media houses? The particular interests that these media houses try to portray in public domain have created a dangerous rat race situation, both in print and visual media. Everyone is in the hunt for TRPs or to please their bosses or the political masters or to sell their books. Rather than placing the true facts for the audience to analyse and decipher, media tends to create its own justice system. While they accuse the politicians of being subservient to votebank politics, they themselves are shrouded by the vicious circle of TRP hunt and personal benefits.
Social media being an open forum, particularly with the advent of the likes of Twitter, has started influencing the voice of media. At first, most of the news reach the social media and then form the 'Breaking News' that is served live. To ensure their existence, media houses have tried to make itself aligned with the trends in the social media. This approach is generating the news first and the reality check next. The space for nuanced discussion based on facts seems to be trimming down. Media which is supposed to be the moderator for a healthy discussion is getting immersed in their own agenda for existence. If they are critical about someone/something then they continue to be so, irrespective of whether it is based on facts or fiction, or for the good or bad or if it is relevant or not.
It has all boiled down to personal branding, individual resume/popularity and hype. Like every other citizen, a journalist is entitled to his/her opinion about any news but should certainly try to represent the unbiased fact in the public domain. This larger responsibility is certainly missing today with most questions carrying a hidden intention, every statement being interpreted based on the requirement of the media house and every situation utilised to the advantage of their concealed agenda.
The element of public trust is an important aspect and this trust should be based on the honesty that the media carries in its news coverage, which further seeks to strengthen the foundation of journalism, its ethics and the credibility of their opinion. Nowadays publicity and personal motives stay on the forefront and instead of creating informed citizens, it is setting a dangerous trend of misguiding the citizens with their own storyline and personalised views. While the unlimited freedom guarantees a space for them to find the real truth and place in the public realm, a biased or agenda-driven media can harm the basic fabric of a nation in itself. It is rather funny to note that sometimes certain media houses even ignore important content just because it doesn’t suit their intent. A corrupted media is much worse than a corrupted political system.
At times, the objectives of journalism do conflict with the journalistic ethics particularly with regard to the privacy and confidentiality of any content. It is for the individual organisations and journalists to take a well-thought-out decision on how to place the truth in the public domain. While this conflict is not new in the journalistic parlance and has been there forever, the digital age challenges require the journalists/organisations to be more responsible and neutral in articulating content. Media today seems to be running behind the day-to-day word of the mouth, incidents and illogical statements. The sensibility that it advocates is certainly missing in its own treatment of news coverage. For a larger section, the business aspects seem to have got the ethics completely ignored.
For generations, the media has been successful in bringing course corrections to the social mindset and has been instrumental in many administrative reforms, with focused campaigns and factual representation of the associated issues. This fact-finding mission is now diluted and determined by the ideologies and beliefs of the journalist rather than the actual facts. The package information that is now served in the name of news has become more of 'News Pollution' and the positive influence of the Fourth Estate is certainly missing in action. Media for most part is turning itself into a story teller instead of a truth seeker. The group of able editors, who were acclaimed journalists and social reformers, has gone missing!
Vishnu R G
Vishnu is from Trivandrum, works with a leading MNC and is an avid reader with a passion for literature and arts.