The fourth estate is the public press, referred to as a collective and encompassing photographers, journalists, television broadcasters, and radio announcers, among others.
Originally posted on Uppity Woman:
The fourth estate is the public press, referred to as a collective and encompassing photographers, journalists, television broadcasters, and radio announcers, among others. Many people generally agree that the fourth estate has immense political and social power, thanks to the fact that the press can be used to shape societies while imparting news of note and commentary of interest. Because the fourth estate is recognized as such an important body, many nations have laws which protect the rights of the press, ensuring that citizens have access to reporting on matters of interest and of note.
The origins of the term “the fourth estate” are best explained within the context of the medieval “estates of the realm.” In medieval society, three “estates” were formally recognized: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. Each estate had a very distinct social role and a certain level of power, and the idea of the estates of the realm became so entrenched in European society that it still lives on, to some extent, although society is far more egalitarian today.
In the middle of the 19th century, people began referring to the press as a fourth estate, referencing the fact that most parliaments and other houses of government had an area set aside specifically for the use of the press, and pointing out that the press was a distinct group within the larger framework of the realm.
I’ve been very distressed in recent years about the condition of our “fourth estate”. I had been raised to think of reporters as people who objectively reported what was happening in the world. Additionally, I thought one of their primary roles was to keep an eye on our government. After all, the Soviet Union had a press that promulgated propaganda (catch that alliteration? lol); their job was to convince people that the party line was the truth. The name of the Russian newspaper, Pravda, actually means “truth” in Russian, and yet that newspaper was for many years widely considered a purveyor of propaganda. But here in America, it’s different! The press here protects us by being willing to fact-check the government and hold it accountable, and we in turn protect them by ensuring a free press.