OPINION: The Fourth Estate

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 April 2023, 16:12 by Denis Chabrol

By Stan Cameron

AFTER reading of and listening to numerous reports on the treatment meted out to journalists by some notable politicians and their groups of sycophantic followers, as well as the underground intellectual authors, I sincerely believe that with my 30-plus-year experience in this noble profession, it is incumbent upon me to remind those politicians of what is written in the Constitution and to sensitise the public, including the ‘Johnny-come-lately-journalist’, on the Role of the Media; especially privately-owned media houses.

Before explaining and sharing my views on the Role of the Media, as well as to provide the historical background on how the media is termed the Fourth Estate, let us examine what the Constitution says implicitly about Press Freedom.

This can be found in Article 146(1) of Guyana’s Constitution, which pelucidly states: “Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference and freedom from interference with his correspondence.”

But is there Press Freedom in Guyana? There has always been some degree of systematic repression against journalists in this country by governments. But since Guyana is being touted to be among the largest oil producers globally, it has escalated to the point where the safety of journalists is threatened, especially when hardline questions on the nation’s patrimony are asked. This virwpoint, in addition to the afore-mentioned, was therefore written not only in solidarity with Kaieteur News’ journalist, Ms. Davina Bagot, but all those in the media fraternity who are targeted and or verbally attacked with the objective of truth suppression. 

The term Fourth Estate was coined by an English Parliamentarian named Edmund Burke, who in 1787 said that there were three “Estates” in Parliament, namely, the Lords Spiritual (the clergy), the Lords Temporal (the non-clergy members of the House of Lords), and the Commoners (the members of the House of Commons). Those Estates represented various interest groups – from the monarch down – and held high power in English society of the day. Burke however said that they needed to be monitored and kept in check by the people, lest they might get carried away, engage in excesses, bring the Parliament into disrepute, undermine the institutions and processes of democracy that were being embedded in British life, and destabilize society and an economy that was taking off like a rocket during the Industrial Revolution. But who would keep the three Estates in check? Burke’s answer was the English media (referred to at the time as the press).

The other Estates are the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary. However, with the advent of the Fourth Estate – the Media -, today, governments that claim to act in the “public interest” must face daily scrutiny of their actions. They must be called to account when overstepping the bounds of what citizens will support or when taking actions that are clearly not in their interests. To this end, the people rely heavily on journalists  to do this job on their behalf. 

Media can be defined as communication channels through which news, entertainment, education, data or promotional messages are disseminated. The channels used are radio, newspapers, magazines, television, billboards, direct mail, telephone, fax and the internet. But quite recently, mainstream media have taken a back seat to the numerous social media platforms.

Many people in this country do not understand the Role of the Media. They perceive journalists as a group of inquisitive individuals pursuing them, and even invading their privacy, to get information on an event or issue that they may deem personal.
On the one hand, some of them are correct in their perception because there is a category of journalists who are glory-hunters. In their quest for fame they colour most news articles; exempt accuracy and omit balance and fairness.
Many of us are engaged in “Yellow Journalism”, which is a pejorative reference to journalism that features scandalmongering, sensationalism, jingoism or other unethical or unprofessional practices.
On the other hand, people need to understand that the Role of the Media is to inform, teach, educate and entertain. And to this end, the media is often in conflict with governments, political parties and a number of other institutions.
Journalism is a discipline of gathering, writing and reporting of events at the local, national, regional and international levels in a timely manner. And the Role of the Media was intended to be there to ensure they get to the bottom of things to disseminate to the public.

Journalists have to get to the truth, and I use the word truth advisably, but not to partner with power brokers for the ambition of a media house, editor or director and believing by following certain partnerships is good for the well-being.

As a matter of fact, it may be good for that particular journalist’s well-being but not for the country. You have to have an approach that is consistent, regardless with whom you are dealing; whether you are dealing with someone you like or someone you dislike. It must be balanced. You must be able to withstand criticism and you must be able to give everyone the right to be heard…everyone must have their say in the media.

Government media is that part of a government, which functions as its mouthpiece. It is also called state-owned media; a media, that works for mass communication, which is ultimately controlled and funded by the state. The news outlets may be a sole media outlet or may exist in competition with privately-owned media. Some critics claim that government media outlets are not media by themselves, only appendages of the government, and their loyalty, first to the government, restricts their aim to act as the voice of the voiceless. In this regard, state-owned media serves a particular interest group and not the public. Aditionally, in some cases, state media outlets are being used frequently by autocratic governments as propaganda tools. They suffer deliberate manipulations of contents by the ruling parties, which reduce their efficiency and credibility.

There is much more that can be given as advice to journalists in Guyana, especially the young ones. But it is common knowledge that many of them cannot report on certain incidents and issues because of their employers’ policies and affiliation to political and other institutions. However, in preservation of your integrity and future opportunities, strive to enhance your skills and ability by being engaged in Investigative Journalism. It is in the service of Public Interest, and the purpose is to uncover corruption, injustice, maladministration and lies. As a duty to readers, listeners and viewers, as well as self-protection in a hostile legal environment, Investigative Journalism seeks above all to tell the documented truth in depth and without fear or favour. It is to provide a voice for those without one and to hold the powerful to account. Conclusively, it is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  But remember not to sell yourself like the many for a few pieces of Silver.