The media is the fourth estate, the other three being the medieval clergy, nobility and the people. The Fourth Estate was first used to refer to the media by Edmond Burke in England in 1787 at the allowing of the press to cover the House of Commons.
According to the Canadian Association of Journalists “journalists draw their own conclusions about the necessity and direction of a story — and of the underlying veracity of facts. Such conclusions are drawn in a disinterested way – that is, independently of consideration of the effect, for good or ill , of the coverage provided. The economic or other benefits to companies, organizations or movements do not drive journalists’ choices.”
Last year The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper with more than 160 years of history was accused of what I would consider one of the greatest breach of ethics a journalist of institution of journalism can be accused of – making news coverage dependent upon and/or influenced by the profit/revenue decisions of the organization. The linking of journalism with business.
This has been something that has been weighing on me for a while now. Not because I have a vested interest in the Telegraph but rather because I have invested a good deal of my life in journalism and journalism has invested in me – it is something I take very seriously and hold to high regard.
The state of journalism and journalistic ethics has seemed to erode over the years. Either journalists are being pushed to extreme political perspectives invading what should be unbiased articles and stories with obvious bias or they are being asked to compromise news coverage based on decisions of revenue and organizational stature.
The issue of the Telegraph is encapsulated in the following quote from an article in The Guardian, another British newspaper:
“This week the paper’s integrity suffered something of a body blow when its highly respected former chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, published a devastating attack on the newspaper’s ethical standards. Mr Oborne detailed a pattern of behaviour in which, he said, stories had been suppressed, removed, downplayed, boosted or discouraged in order not to offend – or, alternately to please – advertisers and/or financial institutions.”
I can say unequivocally that any organization that seeks to affect or otherwise manipulate its news and its journalists is unworthy of the role and a place in the fourth estate. We must resist with every fibre of our integrity the push to compromise our ethics as journalists.
There are not many places left people can trust when it comes to news and this must be guarded even to the point of leaving our places of employment if necessary.
This is what we were taught. We need to remember it.