The Fourth Estate, Does it Need Cleaning?

The above question is worthy of exploration given the crowded media landscape in the country today, something unheard of 15 to 20 years ago.

The Fourth Estate or Fourth Power, as it is sometimes called, refers to the press and news media both in explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame political issues.

The term Fourth Estate has been around for centuries. In Europe, going back to medieval times, the people who participated in the political life of a country were generally divided into three classes or estates. In England, they were the three groups with representation in Parliament, namely, the nobility, the clergy, and the common people. Some other group, like the mob or the public press, that had an unofficial but often great influence on public affairs, was called the fourth estate. In the 19th century, fourth estate came to refer exclusively to the press, and now it’s applied to all branches of the news media. (Wikipedia)

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What then is the role of the Fourth Estate?

The whole idea of the Fourth Estate (Journalism) in our democracy is to educate and inform the public and simultaneously act as a watchdog against acts of malfeasance, corruption, nepotism, or any wrongful act taking place within the corridors of government.

Another vital aspect of the Fourth Estate is to influence opinion. But is the Fourth Estate playing these roles these days?

This is a ticklish question; the answer will vary depending on the political or non-political persuasion of persons. However, based on observation, we are not far off the mark in saying that the Fourth Estate today appears to be playing more to the dictates of the political directorate as indicated by several factors.

Today, we have political operatives entrenched in journalism serving as a bridge of information for their political handlers to the common citizen. These operatives can be found hosting their own shows at prime times, flooding the airwaves with their diatribe, some of which are laced with half-truths and at times push only their side of an issue.

It must be remembered that journalists and news outlets have huge influence and status in this country; therefore, it makes sense for political parties to infiltrate the Fourth Estate and have their operatives pose as bona fide media personalities, with daily appearances on media outlets, knowingly or unknowingly putting in jeopardy the system of checks and balances that make up the Fourth Estate.

To say that the Fourth Estate or Journalism is significant is an understatement. This newspaper, for one, has been bringing vital information to the St. Lucian public for over 135 years. Fires, hurricanes, Nobel prize winners as well as births, deaths and marriages have been broadcast in our pages. Whether the information is good, bad, or ugly a society must be informed.

It is said that the Fourth Estate or Journalism in many ways, serves as a balance of power in a democracy. It keeps elected politicians in check and holds them accountable for their actions while in office. It also prevents anyone from abusing power, as the press is free to criticize anyone, whether in a governmental role or otherwise.

A vital question, however, is whether the Fourth Estate, which also acts as a forum for the sharing of information and open debate that should lead to an informed citizenry, capable of governing or policing  themselves, truly performing its role in the Saint Lucian society?

While this question is being pondered, we could not help but note that the infiltration of political operatives pretending independence in the Fourth Estate brings into question the credibility of the Fourth Estate. Undoubtedly, the current media climate in Saint Lucia has changed and continues to change; a situation which could, if not recognised for what it is, undermines real journalism.

With so many political operatives in journalism and in other areas within media outlets dishing out information, distinguishing fact from fiction or fact from opinion is very difficult for the average Saint Lucian.

Therefore, does the Fourth Estate need to engage in some house cleaning?

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