The term ‘Fourth Estate’ makes implicit reference to the earlier historical division of the Three Estates of the Realm: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. The equivalent term ‘fourth power’, used in many European languages as it historically belongs to European constitutional lore dating back to the time of the Roman Empire, refers to the separation of powers into legislative, executive and judiciary branches. This separation of power has become the construct upon which nations have been built throughout the world. Of which the press is the fourth element.
The purpose, ‘raison d'être’, of this fourth element is to act as an counterbalance, a systemically opposite force that is to report, verify and question matters of governance, public matters as well as commercial ones, conducted by the powers, we the people, have entrusted it with and bestowed upon.
The fact that we call it the fourth power or estate may prelude to the importance and significance we attribute to it.
The legislature, parliament and executive branch, the president, prime minister and cabinet members are naturally divided along political, ideological lines, and so is the press. There is nothing wrong with that per se.
We all are biased, prejudiced to some extent. There is nothing wrong with that per se as long as were are aware of it and are mindful of our purpose, our obligation as consumers, reporters and makers of news. Neutral, objective and critical gathering of news applies to us all. In the case of the press, it has a professional obligation to do so.
We, the consumers of news, opinionators at best, can be excused with some degree of leniency towards our assessment of the facts, the news that is being presented to us. This is what after all constitutes our bias.
Even politicians can not be expected to state the facts and uphold the truth without the coloration of their political agendas and ideologies; matters of perspective and opinion which are not necessarily false or untrue, yet they are coloured.
The press doesn’t have this luxury, much like the judiciary hasn’t. Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason. Her primary obligation is that of justice, much like the press’s primary obligation is that of veritas. To serve the Truth.
The borders have become blurred.
A lot of debate has been going on with regard to so-called ‘fake news’. Concocted news, devoid of facts. News that doesn’t serve the truth but instead obscure political or personal agendas.
Facts matter. Facts connect us to reality.
Facts matter for they are devoid of morals, ideology or politics. Facts are reports on reality. When something has happened in the real world and subsequently gets reported on, then we call them 'facts'.
Facts are supposedly always true. Yet, facts don't necessarily constitute 'The Truth'. The Truth requires more than facts alone. It requires intellect, the ability to connect the dots, the ability to discern patterns, the ability to aggregate and summarise them into statements of cause and effect.
This is were the press steps in. The press provides a vital role in discerning fact from fiction and reporting thereof from a neutral, unbiased perspective.
We assume expertise and a professional attitude on the part of the journalists, the providers of our news. This assumption implies something that is of even more value than expertise and professionalism: TRUST.
Trust is what binds us together, connects all the individual bubbles we call our reality. We rely on the press to record, investigate, interpret and publish the facts truthfully. We have to be able to trust our journalists. If they fail, we fail.
Journalists are the guardians of veritas, lest they become ‘bloggers’ or ‘vloggers’.
In this blog we opinionate, we write stories from a personal perspective loosely corroborated by factual information. Our articles mostly follow the lines of reasoning; what makes sense to us and what doesn’t. We don’t report factual information as facts.
We are bloggers, not journalists. Yet we do study and investigate our source material. From a journalist one might expect more time and effort spent, more dedication on fact checking and due diligence.
Journalism is a professional discipline and as with every discipline it requires knowledge, training; it involves methodology, procedures in order to ascertain the facts and report on them accordingly. Journalism is a calling from which few are chosen. Or at least that is how it should be. Much like a doctor or a lawyer. One may want to attain these positions but one may not be qualified to fulfil these tasks.
We assume professionalism from journalists, we grant them our trust, lest we regard them as entertainers.
Journalism's primary purpose is to inform its audience, not to entertain them. That doesn’t mean journalism has to be boring. Journalists can be entertaining, yet it should never become the centerpiece of their reports. When a journalist is in higher regard than the news he or she provides, something is wrong. We are treading on a slippery slope. When a TV news report being called a ‘show’, then what a we looking at: a newscast or a sitcom?
Why do we regard casters and anchors of news so important to the news they report that we pay them double-digit million dollar salaries?
Different inputs produce different outcomes
In conclusion I would argue that journalism is at the forefront in the battle for the truth: facts vs. fake news
If journalism fails to live up to its intrinsic duty as the guardian of veritas, reporter of facts, we will be overcome by fake news.This will alter our reality or at least the perception of it. This in effect will alter the way we think and act. Different inputs will produce different outcomes.
What if the reporting of fake news were to be deemed a criminal offense?