Journalism traditionally sees itself as having a central role in ensuring accountability in the democracy by revealing the details of debate in the political process. The term fourth estate is used to contrast the press to the legislative, executive and judicial arms of the government (Dr. Stockwell Stephen ).
But let us go back in time when the fourth estate was considered an important pillar of society. James Harrison in the first issue of his Geelong Advertiser proclaimed the press to be a "mighty engine for the promulgation of Truth". Engines of Influence shows the links in the newspaper network working to receive and share news, distribute papers and manufacture opinion. "A rich fund for the investigations of future historians", was how the Trustees saw the newspaper collection of the public Library of Victoria in 1883. This has been proved true with the frequency with which newspapers are cited in Australian histories. In fact, Alan Atkinson's history of Australia postulates and explores a relationship between the ubiquity of print and manuscript, the power of writing and development of democracy. (Mighty Engine 24th Jan 2004)
The fourth estate in the earlier days carried a certain stature and was vary of transgressing the privacy of individuals. It followed government policies and decisions and debated them vociferously thereby, influencing policy decisions. Its bipartisan discussions and views were taken seriously and could definitely be counted as a force in the public domain. Commercial compulsions did not hold sway and nor did political affiliations. Journalist commanded a certain stature in society which unfortunately today is being diluted.
Till the seventies and eighties the fourth estate could be considered to be the government watchdog, but with the challenges of the present day times and the government regulations coming into place, it seems to have lost some of its sheen.
Globalisation, technology and media ownership have played an important role in the effectiveness of the fourth estate. Let us take a closer look at how each one of them has an impact on the fourth estate.
In this age of globalisation, the relationship of the media and the government cannot be ignored. Globalisation has provided the media with a bigger and more diverse audience. The whole world is suddenly open to it. With the advent of the internet and satellite transmission, the viewer ship for the media has largely increased. Ironically though, the media instead of being free has been bound in shackles with the acceleration of globalisation.
The acceleration of globalisation has led to the fourth estate being stripped of its potential and thus making it a miniscule counter power. This new geo-economic framework has made all the activities in the mass culture, communication and information merge where it difficult to distinguish between their individual elements. (Ramonet Ignacio, October 2003)
Earlier the three were clearly divided and the news was considered a priority with entertainment having a separate identity of its own. But today commercial compulsions and technology make it necessary to merge all the three thereby