The term Fourth Estate or fourth power refers to the press and news media both in the explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame political issues. Though it is not formally recognised as a part of a political system, it wields significant indirect social influence.
The derivation of the term fourth estate arises from the traditional European concept of the three estates of the realm: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. The equivalent term “fourth power” is somewhat uncommon in English. Still, it is used in many European languages, including German (Vierte Gewalt), Spanish (Cuarto poder), and French (Quatrième pouvoir), to refer to a government’s separation of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
Our society is made up of the different type of people who have various skills. It is necessary and essential for the smooth functioning.
When I was in college, getting to know the cricket score of matches played in the West Indies was a chore. On the third page of the Times of India, there used to be a small one column headline and four or five lines, giving brief details of the latest score known as at 2 am! Getting the information on the radio news was not done- for whatever reason. Speed of getting the news has improved to the degree that younger people can not fathom.
Things started changing slowly, and the number of outlets sharing the information multiplied. Competition brought good functional changes, but the Internet arrived, and the rest is history.
The quality of journalism has suffered. Precisely because there are hundreds of outlets where there used to be a handful, the pressure and competition to be first with big stories are very intense- breaking news? Quality Control has suffered as a result.
Objectivity has suffered to the point where it barely exists. It started quite a while ago, and in the Internet Age, it is pervasive. In many instances, it is difficult to distinguish news from opinion. I suppose the news has simply followed politics and the rest of society to a very polarised place. But it’s an ugly phenomenon, and both sides participate in this sad thing, equally.
For the last few years, I used to follow news on the Internet, but my primary source was the newspapers. With COVID pandemic, I started watching the news again. Has it changed? Now on TV news, a stage is reached that after every alternate news item, they claim that there is “breaking news!” The breaking news could be “Mumbai is likely to get torrential rains after four days! Or it could be “a tempo rams into a car in the main square!” Oh, who cares! “Rishi Kapoor died 15 minutes back” could be breaking news but not everything can not be breaking news. Experts say that breaking news concept is because of the competition. It is the race to be the first to report anything and everything. What happens if you are the second or the third? Nothing. Mr Modi is going to talk to the nation at 8 pm. It is touted as breaking news. It is no doubt a vital news item, but he is giving such talk regularly during COVID times. So at 8 am, the news can be told without “breaking news” or for that matter breaking sweat!
The news is supposed to be informed, but nowadays Newspapers, Magazines, TV channels and websites have become extremely polarised. News organisations like Reuters are now rare. Each new channel, whatever is the media, gives their opinion. They have their “experts” in every field, who have reasonably good command on the language of communication. Their main ammunition is that they should be able to shout if they are on TV Channel. Each of these TV channels has a group of set experts; these are both for and against the topics. But these experts are generally fixed. The TV channels and websites have their fixed “management policies”, but I call them agendas. NDTV is against Modi/BJP and for Congress/TMC and other parties who are opposition currently. India Today seems to be in flip flop mode but leaning more towards the current opposition parties. The chief anchor Rajdeep Sardesai follows channel policies, but on a personal level, he has written a book about Modi’s victory- How Modi Won India-2019! There Rajdeep praises Modi- no qualms about what Rajdeep says on the TV and what he used to say about Gujarat riots.
During the discussions at the prime time, it is good to have people with a different viewpoint. There are representative of political parties, and if they give extreme views, I am okay with that. It is their business to look each other down. They stick to their party’s tagline, and these discussions are their day to day work. But when experts like Yogendra Yadav says that the current government has not done anything in the last six years, then you have doubts in your mind if he is working with a plan. Again, I have no issue with this, but he should not call himself an independent thinker.
The way the anchors ask questions to the panellists, and the experts- say BMC commissioner, it feels as if you are observing an inquisition. The questions asked, and the tones are not in a good test. What is the job of a news anchor? He is definitely not GOD! The role of the anchor is to take a news item or an event, and take it to a group of experts, or individuals and discuss it. Based on the discussion, summarise what is concluded. Sometimes, the panel tends to get into a fighting mode or a shouting match. The anchor needs to control challenging behaviour. But what I have observed is that some of the anchors try to push their channel’s agenda, they browbeat the participants. At the same time, participants are equally bad. There was a discussion about George Floyd killing and protest by someone from India on twitter. Those with agenda were shouting, saying that people have time to protest about Floyd, but they did not have time to protest against attacks on minorities in India. These two are independent things. But this group of people bring every subject ending with how India hates minorities.
Another tribe I see on the TV channels is people who support actions by nations against India. Still, when asked opinion about some events in India, they speak in a vague language and take a circuitous route of arguing about irrelevant things. When the anchors request them to reply to the question asked, they start shouting and say, “You are not allowing me to argue.” We can go on and on about this subject. Almost no one is willing to give a balanced view on any topic.
There is an interesting phenomenon that is happening. News is reported by TV channels, newspapers and news websites. But Google search, and Facebook who “show” this news as reported by XXX Times, get all the advertisements. It is because people use the search engine for multiple purposes so advertisers, advertise with them and less with other media. They get revenue per click. The phenomenon is creating stress in the News business. There is nothing that they can do about it.
Friends, these are the mediums we live with, in today’s times. What directions these will take is anybody’s guess, but one thing is sure News business is tough, competitive and cutthroat! But many things that I see and read are no more appealing; every time you read or see something, you get a feeling that it is displayed by an organisation which is “sold.” For a long time, reading newspapers every day and on any Sunday morning was a ritual. I am not talking about technology. I am equally comfortable reading on a cell phone or a tablet. But that feeling of “sold” takes away all the enjoyment. What is your opinion?