The Fourth Estate – Responsibility And Freedom
by Tim Ellis | 10 Apr 2022
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Image courtesy of Michael Leunig

The Fourth Estate 

The Fourth Estate, or sometimes, the Fourth Power, refers to the press and media. It describes their ability to advocate and to frame political issues. The traditional European concept holds for three estates of the realm: the clergy, the nobility and the commoners. Clearly, this was a traditional concept held before the press as we know it existed. Times have changed.

Author William Safire once wrote: “Describing journalists and the news outlets for which they work as members of the Fourth Estate is an acknowledgement of their influence and status among the greatest powers of a nation.” The fourth estate, it seems, has passed commoners, nobility and the clergy (except in a few theocracies) in terms of influence. To hold such power is a responsibility.

Who Is William Safire?

So who is William Safire? As stated, he was an author. He was also a journalist, columnist and US Presidential speechwriter. One of his most popular books is Freedom. Freedom is a novel about US President Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln advocated for the abolition of slavery and the civil war was fought over this principle. The union wanted to abolish slavery. The confederacy wanted to retain it.

A Conspiracy – Not A Theory

There was a plot involving a number of people who conspired to assassinate the three most important officials in the American government; Secretary of State William Seward, Vice-President Andrew Johnson and President Lincoln.

Towards the end of Lincoln’s presidency – and just five days after the civil war effectively ended – he was shot in the head by John Booth and became the first US President to be assassinated. Over freedom.

(Beyond Lincoln’s death, Seward was only wounded. Johnson’s would-be attacker got drunk instead of killing him and the plot failed.)

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Freedom Of The Press

Freedom Of The Press is a tenet that led to the rise of the fourth estate. Freedom, though, is often hard fought for, is usually under attack and must be defended. Irish Judge John Philpot Curran wrote a speech in 1790. In it, he said:

“It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”

Or, as he might have said today, “There are people who want to control you. Keep your wits about you, or you’ll be a slave before you know it.”

With Rights Come Responsibility

The fourth estate has its power because of its ability to advocate and frame political issues. It could be argued that every news outlet has been a consistent advocate for a message about covid-19 from early in 2020. But why has the message remained consistent in the face of data that contradicts the message? And who is controlling this ultra-consistent messaging across all mainstream media?

Could it be that the fourth estate has taken their eye off the ball? Or been bought out? It can certainly be argued that they have abrogated their responsibility to properly and fully inform the public.

In this interview on GBNews.UK, former Sky News and ITV News Executive Mark Sharman gives an insight to the situation in the UK. In it, Sharman says Ofcom warned media outlets not to question the official government line, which he says “led to the biggest assault on free speech and democracy I’ve known in my lifetime.”

Who Are Ofcom And What Do They Do?

Ofcom is the UK Office Of Communication. From their official website: (Ref 1)

  • Ofcom is the regulator for the communications services that we use and rely on each day
  • We make sure people get the best from their broadband, home phone and mobile services, as well as keeping an eye on TV and radio
  • We look after the airwaves
  • Our duties come from Parliament

why don’t some broadcasters present conflicting or, at least, balanced views?

Behaviour Of The Fourth Estate

That explains the UK. However, countries around the world have been in lockstep with their messaging. UK, US, Canada, Australia, EU, etc. Not all countries, but a great many. From the beginning.

We have a number of governments and virtually all of the mainstream media outlets within those countries pushing the same narrative from the start of the pandemic. If one quango can control the media in the UK, is it a stretch of the imagination to suggest that similar directives have been given and followed in other countries?

In some respects, a consistent message is not too difficult to achieve when looking at current reporting practices. Many papers use news agencies such as Associated Press or Reuters for their content. What AP and Reuters say, the papers pass on. Many papers also quote other papers. Ownership is another way to achieve consistent messaging. For example, if Rupert Murdoch has an agenda, one can see that it would be easy for him to push that agenda throughout the Murdoch Group. Ownership of the majority of media is concentrated in just a few hands.

This still leaves the question, “why don’t some broadcasters present conflicting or, at least, balanced views?” All too often, there is little to no critical analysis of studies referred to, which often quote statements by faceless “scientists,” or “experts” that remain anonymous.

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Opposing Views Are Immediately Discredited

Those who dare to oppose the narrative are often smeared and disparaged. The information they provide from a variety of studies are generally ignored. Instead, they are immediately accused of spreading misinformation, even if the data they use to support their position is the government’s own data. Many suffer from personal attacks aimed at discrediting them. One of the latest examples is Robert Malone, whom the New York Times claim spread “unfounded claims about the Covid-19 claims and the virus.” (Ref 2)

One interesting aspect of this story is that the reporter, Davey Alba, declined an offer from Malone to show her his evidence. (Ref 3) An example, perhaps, of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

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The Future Of The Fourth Estate

If the media is simply going to be a propaganda arm of the government – or whoever is pulling their strings – do they deserve the power they have? If they are going to abrogate their responsibility to take the government or corporations to task and provide balanced news reporting, why should we – the commoners – pay attention to their utterances? In their current guise, they are only deserving of being used to check sports results and to wrap fish and chips (if that were still allowed).

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Clampdowns By Governments

We have seen and heard what has happened during protests in Melbourne and Canberra in Australia, and Ottawa in Canada. The government reactions to peaceful protests were swift and forceful. It would be not be an overstatement to describe the utterances and actions of Canada’s Trudeau, in particular, as alarming. New South Wales has just passed an anti-protest bill, allowing penalties of up to 2 years jail or $22,000 fines for protestors.

Peaceful protests are not an act of domestic terrorism. They are democracy in action.

William Safire

Final Word To William Safire

We started with a quote from William Safire. It is fitting to end with another one:

“It is in the nature of tyranny to deride the will of the people as the voice of the mob, and to denounce the cry for freedom as the roar of anarchy.”

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