The term Fourth Estate is an institution which may not have official recognition. It has been used in earlier times to refer to lawyers, to the common masses and even to the British queen who acts without the intervention of the king. However, Fourth Estate is used more commonly to refer to print journalism and media which includes the journalists, photographers, radio announcers, television news broadcasters and so on. The press is responsible for making or breaking governments and hence one cannot undermine the political and social power it wields.
The term Fourth Estate is commonly referred to the Press. The earliest use of the Fourth Estate as the press was by Edmund Burke in a 1787 parliamentary debate. Burke may have cited this with reference to the traditional set up of the parliament which included the three estates of the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual and the House of Commons. Later the term got well established with its usage by parliamentarian Henry Brougham in his speech in 1823 and then by writers such as Thomas Macaulay (1828) and William Hazlitt (1835)In American usage the “fourth estate” suggested the independent rights of the press as against the “fourth branch of government” which clearly indicated that the press could not function without governmental support.
In 1752, Henry Fielding wrote in his “The Convent Garden Journal” that the political writers took notice of only the three estates of ‘Kings, Lords and Commons’ while ignoring the needs of the mob or the common masses which formed the fourth estate of the community. Similarly in 1890s, striking workers in Turin, Italy were termed as the Fourth Estate (IL quarto stato).
With reference to the press, the fourth estate functions as a branch of the government and has an important role in the functioning of the democracy. In recent times the word “press” is not restricted to just newspapers, journalists and journalism but includes other news media as well. A healthy media would include investigative reporting and strong and well written editorials which may be critical to the proper functioning of a democracy. Considering the responsibility of the fourth estate, it is expected that journalists are well trained to produce journalistic content of high caliber.
There is no doubt that the Fourth Estate has an important role in shaping the politics and society of the nation. Consequently many laws have emerged safeguard the rights of the media and ensuring that people have access to factually accurate and newsworthy content. In modern times the traditional newspaper has been marginalized by other media such as radio, television and internet. Further , radio has been inundated by other satellite channels. Television focuses more on entertainment though it has numerous news channels. Moreover digital information is easily accessible on the internet. But all journalism is governed by certain professional ethics in order to maintain the integrity of the press in public.