The fourth estate isn’t working for the people

The fourth estate isn’t working for the people

The “fourth estate” is a term that originated during the 19th century. The term can be traced back to England when three groups or estates made up Parliament: the nobility, the clergy and the common people. The “public press” often weighed in on public affairs, and because of this influence, they were referred to as the “fourth estate.”

Today all branches of the news media including the internet have been called the fourth estate. However, stories today that pass as newsworthy differ dramatically from news stories covered by the three major news networks during the 1960s and 1970s: ABC, NBC and CBS.

During the Vietnam War, it was not unusual to see photos or video of soldiers mortally wounded. Viewers rarely saw any graphic war coverage during the Iraq War and Persian Gulf conflict in the 1990s and 2000s. Today few news stations report on casualties resulting from the global conflicts we are currently involved in, such as Afghanistan.

Soldier casualties today are just as significant as the loss of loved ones that occurred during previous wars and conflicts. In many cases the fourth estate has been, as Noam Chomsky would say, “manufacturing consent.” Or to put it in different terms, when it comes to wars and conflicts, media takes the stance of “out of sight, out of mind.”

An even more troubling aspect of the news media today is the ownership of our sources of news. A flowchart in a 2018 Fortune magazine listed hundreds of news outlets and their owners. Basically, according to Fortune Magazine, all were owned or controlled by six corporations: Comcast, Disney, 21st Century Fox, Viacom, ATT and CBS.

A Forbes article said 15 billionaires own most of the media and newsprint in the U.S. Chomsky said, “He who controls the media controls the mind of the public.”

Malcolm X said of the media, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty more innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

No better example of this quote can be found than in the misrepresentation of indigenous people during the conflicts at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota in 2016. The grassroots protests, supported by over 180 tribal nations across the United States and Canada, were in opposition to the construction of the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline by Energy Transfer Partners.

Originally the pipeline was to cross the Missouri River near Bismarck, North Dakota, but worries over possible contamination of the state capital’s drinking water resulted in the construction being moved to cross under the Missouri River, where a spill would threaten the Standing Rock Sioux’s water supplies and cultural resources.

There was very little media coverage of this 10-month-long protest, but when it was covered, the protesters were portrayed as being violent. The “water protectors” including U.S. vets were met with violence by North Dakota law enforcement and private guards hired by ETP.

Hundreds of arrests were made; protesters were sprayed with water cannons, teargas, rubber bullets and percussion grenades; and some were even beaten and detained in dog kennels. If not for social media outlets, there would have been no support and no reporting about the events.

The internet has become a major news source for the younger generation. A 2015 article published by the American Press Institute and based on research by the Media Insight Project revealed though Millennials do not visit newsprint or mainstream television news, their awareness of the world is not “narrow or passive” as one might believe.

Instead, this generation finds news on social platforms. At least 69 percent said they get news on a daily basis, and 86 percent reported seeing diverse opinions in their news sources, rather than one-sided views. A 2018 Pew Research study found “the younger generation is actually better at telling news from opinion than those over 50.”

The major corporations that control news are in many cases engaging in what many call “fake news,” but it could be labelled “yellow journalism.” With sound bites and eye-catching headlines, newscasters present what I like to call “fluff” pieces. Gone are the days of well-researched, factual reporting. It has been replaced with “scandals and sensationalism.”

Since many local television stations also are owned by the same news outlets, there is no diversity in the local news. We can hear the same stories stated in almost an identical format with similar slants on multiple stations and in multiple papers. Those six corporations that control most media also decide what the American people need to hear and see. Often it is not ground-breaking news.

Except for letters to the editor or op-eds, many local newspapers fail to provide equivalent reporting on both sides of controversial subjects. When public opposition to issues like pipelines or injection wells are reported on, it is usually buried in the back of the paper. Additionally “about 20 percent, about 1,800 of all metro and community newspapers have gone out of business or merged since 2004.”

A glaring example of the manipulation of what is deemed important is the total lack of coverage of the climate crisis that is threatening the world. Media will only mention climate change when the U.S. is experiencing catastrophic wildfires, tornadoes or flooding.

ABC news spent more time in one week on the birth of the royal baby than they spent on the climate crisis in the entire year. In 2017, a year that saw some of the biggest fires in California history, news networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Evening news, Sunday news and FOX) spent 260 minutes total on climate change, and most of that coverage was in relation to President Trump’s comments about climate change being a “Chinese hoax.”

Climate strikes started by Greta Thunberg are going on all over Europe with thousands of supporters in the streets, yet it is never on our news. In a recent article co-published by the Columbia Journal Review and The Nation, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes was asked about the lack of coverage of climate change. He replied, “Every single time we’ve covered climate change it’s been a palpable ratings killer. So the incentives are not great.” Imagine that, the end of the world as we know it is being shrugged off because of TV ratings.

Another factor that may play into the lack of diversity and truth in the news is the net neutrality issue. Net neutrality, which was repealed in 2017, made sure internet service providers cannot block free speech online.

Without net neutrality, internet media can consolidate like television media. Independent news, which is more diverse and addresses community issues, can effectively be silenced.

To put it bluntly, the media isn’t working for the people any longer. It serves us endless feel-good stories, and what passes for news has been so dumbed down it sounds like a grade-school play.

This serves effectively to placate us into believing everything is alright and we should continue on our way. We need to be told the facts, the real news, not corporate biased news. We need to see the reality of climate change, not reality TV shows.

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