Media as the Fourth Estate: What you should know

Media as the Fourth Estate: What you should know

BEYOND the three traditional branches of government, (the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary) there is another one that has often been called the fourth branch of the government - the Media.

In connection to the Media, the name ‘fourth branch of the government’ first appeared in 1949 in a book called ‘Freedom of Information’, by Herbert Brucker.

Calling the Media as one of the government’s pillars is nothing more than a rhetorical device, not a serious fact. However, research has proven that by adjusting framing, priming and agenda setting, news can powerfully shape policy debates and public opinion formation.

There are several reasons why Media is being termed the fourth estate. The function of the Media is to keep in public spotlight every deliberation and decision that the Government, House of Assembly and Judiciary make, since everything they do should be done on the people’s behalf.

The Media is in charge of informing about all the misdeeds of the government and others by exposing corruption, waste, human rights violation and mismanagement.

It is a segment of society that has an indirect, but key role in influencing the political system. The phrase ‘Media as the Fourth Estate’ does not only stand for the enormous influence Media has, but it also links Media to the government, leaving the question open of who really decides what is going public.

But how influential is Media really? Do we really change our opinion because of some article we read, listen to or view on television? Does what we read rule us? Representing facts is the best way to answer all these questions.

Statistics have shown that the leading source of news in the United States is Fox News; consumed by 16 per cent of the population.

During the election of President Donald Trump the Media made the choice to be on the Republican’s side. Did that influence the elections? Of course, it did.

Statistics verify that mass media comprising of newspapers, magazines, radio, television and social media has played an important role in shaping American politics over the years. The election of Trump as president has pushed opinions of liberals and conservative further apart.

The Media spoke up and shared opinions about their political preferences, the neutrality was lost, the country furious. Other examples that demonstrate the power of the Media are all the theories spread around covid 19 at the beginning of the pandemic. The fundament of a liberal democracy is to have the right to express your opinion.

The first Amendment of the American Constitution says ‘Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom… of press’. This means that is it forbidden to the government to control what people say, either in the press (or other forms of media) or outside the press.

That means that fake news can flow through the net without limits. During a time of uncertainty, a lot of false information was published by journalists and the public.

These stories changed the way people approached the pandemic. The lack of knowledge back then combined with fear caused the outbreak of many conspirations, especially in the field of social media, where everybody could ‘play journalist’. This field is dangerous, as social networks use algorithms to sort out the news you are interested in. And just like that, you get caught in a cloud of personalized press.

Media houses have a considerable influence on our opinions and thoughts, as it is their responsibility to keep us informed about all the mistakes of the authorities, a great responsibility lies on them.

Oscar Wild once wrote that the press had become “the only estate” that has “eaten up the other three”. By manipulating us through words, it can persuade and even control.

● Frederica Bauer is a student at Wiener Sängerknaben, Austria (A-Levels to be expected in the spring of 2023), with great passion in Journalism, Mass Communications and is interested to learn about Tanzania. She is a native speaker of German and Spanish, fluent in fluent/advanced in Russian and English with good knowledge of French and Italian as well as a basic knowledge in Bulgarian and Croatian.

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