Ramblings for a Sunday evening. Ran out of Coke, caffeine levels low, rambling begins:
"There were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all." Attributed to Edmund Burke 1787.
Lower house, upper house, judiciary. The three estates of a democracy
Fourth Estate: The press; the profession of journalism.
Quick History Flash. Three estates historically referred to the division between the nobility, the clergy and the commoners. The term continued to be used but as the power of the clergy and nobility fell and the power of the commoners grew the term came to refer to the more modern balance of lower and upper houses and judiciary, though most of the senior clergy and nobility continued in power but now they were in the commons and lords.
We all know of the fourth estate, the media, the newspapers and TV, the men and women who bravely find the news and bring it to us in print, on our TVs and online. We see them every day, we listen to them and watch them and read them. From the largest TV channels and the widest read newspapers to something local or even the mutterings of some blogger online.
Much has been made of Trumps war against the media and much has been made of fake news, in particular with Trump blocking a long list of media organisations from the White House briefings. His accusations against the big US news chains are regular and televised constantly, he snubs their journalists at conferences and refused to answer their questions. Now his press secretary has banned news organisations such as CNN, the BBC, the New York Times and the Daily Mail from attending, which doesn't mean they won't be reporting on the events, just that they will be doing so second hand. Trump himself is refusing to attend the White House correspondents dinner, the first US president to do so for 35 years and Regan had the excuse he was recovering from the assassination attempt.
More importantly he is not just stopping them asking him annoying questions, but he is setting a very clear precedent that it is acceptable for others in his administration to do the same. Today it's white house briefings, tomorrow it could be all sorts of governmental briefings and meetings, it's only a few steps beyond that one to labelling them not just annoying but actually that old threat to national security. Which given being slightly too dark of skin or following the brown version of god instead of the nice pink version makes you subject to enhanced security checks, fake news and propaganda could become treasonous fairly quickly.
This isn't the first time this has happened, not in the US or here in the UK, though over here the press or more correctly those billionaire tax exiles who own them, are far too powerful to make such snubs possible. Instead we see the standard political art of bullshit, lie and evade which is demonstrated so well by Glorious Leader May. In the US the media barons don't own the politicians, instead the big corporations (or the Alien Overlords) own the politicians and it is far easier to isolate the fourth estate.
Under Obama attempts to block Fox news were rebuffed by some of the other media groups, now Fox is one of a few voices raised against these new bans. Still this is new, it only just happened so it's a bit hard to predict which way it will go, back to normal or toward more restrictions and controls on selected (enemy) media types.
Now here is a thing. We, all of us, have a soft spot for the fourth estate, we all too often view them through those rose tinted glasses. When people talk about investigative journalists we think of those old 50s and 60s movies with the rain coat wearing men, notepads in one hand and pencils in the other hand, seeking clues, uncovering the truth and heroically bringing it to the world.
We, all of us think of the films of the 70s and 80s where big corporations and corrupt politicians were the enemy and those investigators fought their secret campaigns to bring us the truth, listening at windows, blagging their way into someone's office to get a quick look at their files or persuading concerned people to tell all about the evil deeds their bosses are trying to cover up.
We see reporters and journalists, all smartly dressed in their serious suits and jackets, telling us what is going on somewhere in the world. We pay attention to what they say, what they show us, we (well more you to be honest, I'm a Cynical Bar-steward and disbelieve 95% of what the Media says) shape our opinions based on what we have been told and showed.
We listen and read and we shape our opinions based on that, we trust that the media is telling us the truth and so we accept that things are as they tell us, we vote because of the things we see and hear and read, we act and react because of what we learn from the media.
And there is the problem
Is this not a two way street. Does not the media have a duty to be honest and unbiased in return for being protected as the voice of the people?
Does any Corbyn support think that the BBC is unbiased when it comes to reporting about the leader of the Labour party. Or the opposite, the lack of critical comment and analysis directed against the government and Tories.
How about the Daily Fail, sorry Mail, a newspaper renowned for being the mouthpiece of the political agenda of its billionaire tax exile owner. Independent investigations suggest that minority of the reporting on Corbyn is free from negative editing as a result of bias. The bloke may be failing to live up to the grand promise of his election but editing the news to make him look worse is a violation of the very basis of the protection of the free press. The Daily Mail led the charge to Brexit and over the last six months we have been clearly told that most of what was promised on the front pages of the Mail were lies but we don't expect the Mail to admit that, because we know what sort of paper it is.
Europe's largest newspaper, Bild, printed a story about refugees en mass sexually assaulting German women over the new year in Frankfurt. The story was based on reports by two people, was unsubstantiated and was a complete fabrication. A fact that could have been verified fairly quickly by simply checking for other witnesses. But no such checks were made.
Just as no checks were made in the many other stories that have served to advance someone's political agenda, either that or the editors and publishers knew the stories to be fake but went ahead with them anyway to do the damage and then printed a VERY SMALL retraction towards the back of the paper days later. Sound familiar to anyone, Sun readers perhaps.
People who routinely refer to the Daily Fail and who are appalled by its bias were equally appalled because it has been excluded from White House press briefings, people who otherwise would argue that the Daily Mail isn't press and is in fact nothing more than a far right propaganda rag serving the agenda of a Billionaire tax exile are upset by it being banned from reporting on meetings.
Want to run a country, control the government OR control the media. Tyrants and dictators rule all too often by force and worry about having enemies who seek to topple them, the media rule by guile and deception, by manipulation and les and worry about falling sales and losing influence.
The first step of most tyrannies is to control the media and replace it with propaganda, but with the media themselves, when they are already propaganda they can become tyrannies without a shot being fired.
This is exactly what happens when the Fourth Estate, the media, stops reporting the news and instead begins to shape the news, instead of reporting on what happened they comment on why sit happened. They don't tell you what they saw or heard, instead they tell you want they want you to see and hear, political and corporate agendas tint every program and print run. Manipulation becomes the order of the day and subtle but very real power follows.
It's simple really, the way things are said, the way they are shown. It is sadly very easy to manipulate people because people are far too trusting, if the BBC said it then it must be true. Newspaper headlines have become clickbait and what little truth is actually being reported is often hidden down at the bottom of the article where people get bored and miss it.
How often these days to we hear that once common phrase, "In this reporters opinion", "In my opinion", it is the view of this paper / channel, "ask me this will". Watch the news, read the papers, read not just the content of the words but the phrasing and tone.
"In my opinion this will get worse before it gets better".
"This will get worse before it gets better".
One is a person stating their personal opinion and making sure everyone knows it is just their opinion and so can be taken or ignored as wanted because it is just the reporters opinion. The other is a statement of fact, ironclad and set in stone, not anything as vague as an opinion, but instead... A FACT!
As a matter of humour between my friends and I the fact that it is often so hard to tell the difference between major media sites and the parody sites is a great joke, very funny. But it isn't funny, not deep down, instead it's tragic because the sites set up to deliberately mock the fourth estate are now more reflective of what is going on than the fourth estate which has become a parody of itself.
Which brings us back to the war on the fourth estate, the destruction of the freedom of the press.
Except that our press isn't free, it's controlled, often very tightly, by the people who fund it. We want a free press, we want to protect that fourth estate from tyranny and control. Well that starts with the media themselves, Trump may be banning a few news organisations that he doesn't like but he is doing no more than providing them with a little sympathy and free publicity. The war against the fourth estate has been going on for generations and the battle against the free press comes from our politicians and leaders and those who own the media and use it to further their agendas as much as it comes from totalitarian regimes and dictators.
Much as Trump isn't the problem but is a sign of the problem being society wide, so the war on the fourth estate is a sign that our free press... Isn't. Alternative news, alternative facts, post truth, it's not hard to see why the social media news sites are growing rapidly as a source of less biased news, or why it's so difficult these days to separate the real stories from the parodies.
There is a very clear war on the freedom of the press, on the old idea of the fourth estate being independent providers of facts and the truth to the people, allowing the people to be informed and to make informed choices. But it isn't just coming from Trump, or any politician or tyrant, it also comes from marketing and propaganda and manipulation that the press itself is doing. It comes from the people who own the media and the people who use it to their own ends.
The war on the Fourth Estate is being fought by Tyrants and would be Dictators, but it's also a civil war, fought within the ranks of the media themselves. For every complaint by someone like Trump about fake news there is an example of facts and statistics being misrepresented to advance a newspaper owners agenda. For every strange comment by Trump that is repeated to mock him you will see an example of nonsense and lies put out on the front page or the headlines of a paper or TV news program.
We are watching the death of old media, as it becomes nothing more than a tool of the rich and powerful, to be replaced with social media and digital news and micro sites. Trump isn't killing off old media, he's just one of many giving it a good kick as it goes down. The newspapers, the TV and satellite news, they are taking sides in an all too polarised world. The fourth estate we all remember so fondly as we look through our rose tinted glasses, it's dying in front of us.
Being replaced with a fifth estate, the digital media, not the old news empires ruled over by billionaires but instead millions of tiny sites each competing with each other. None with the resources to research or investigate, mostly just repeating what others have posted. Investigative journalism is a rare thing these days, and getting rarer, the reporter sneaking around and overhearing some secret or breaking the news about Nixon is becoming something only seen in old films.
Whistleblowers and leaks are the new investigations and it's all but impossible to verify them quickly, but is there a real difference between a story you can't verify and a story that was published without anyone bothering to verify it, because it suited some political agenda or another?
Is the fifth Estate worse or better than the Fourth Estate?
Or is it just the same, only a different century?