Just over a week ago, Kaieteur News joined hundreds of media houses in the United States and around the world to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, U.S. President Donald Trump’s vicious attacks on the free press. Mr. Trump’s conduct has gone far beyond the margins of fair comment, and is unbecoming for the office of the presidency. Long before becoming president, Trump ridiculed the press, even mocking a reporter with a disability.
Once in power, he began a nasty campaign against media houses. He continually labels them as the enemy of the people, attacks specific networks and reporters, and dismisses incisive reporting as fake news. His actions have increased the likelihood of harm being inflicted on journalists.
Many people believe, and rightly so, that the press is not the enemy of the people. Rather, the real enemies of the people are those who heap scorn on journalists whose work it is to serve the public interest. The contempt and disregard for the press by Mr. Trump and others of his ilk is beyond comprehension.
The media is the watchdog of the people’s interest due to its constant exposure of the abuse of power, corruption and other illegalities by public officials. It is considered the Fourth Estate or fourth power because it wields an indirect but significant influence on society, especially on the political system. The fourth estate encompasses the journalists who report the news.
The term fourth estate was derived from the traditional European concept of the three estates of the realm: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. In politics, the term fourth estate was first used by political theorist and philosopher, Edmund Burke in 1787, during a debate in the British Parliament to accentuate the freedom of the press.
In the United States, Canada and many European countries, the fourth estate is considered the fourth power in a system of government in which the three separated powers are the legislature, an executive and a judiciary.
The term fourth estate is contrasted with the fourth branch of government in the traditional states in the European and English systems of government which have no direct equivalents in modern American government. It has also been used to describe a political, institutional or societal force whose influence is not officially or consistently recognized.
The press or the fourth estate usually observes the political process to make sure the participants in government do not abuse their power or exploit the democratic system. It plays a crucial role in the outcome of political issues and in shaping the course of politics in democratic societies. It is viewed as an important force in government, in the sense that it holds public officials accountable for their actions and behaviour.
We in Guyana are very fortunate to have freedom of the press. It is a freedom we hold dear and jealously guard. There have been dark times in our post-independence history when freedom of the press has been subjected to serious challenges. But the degree of animosity and vitriol currently emanating from the White House is something we in Guyana are yet to witness and, hopefully, never will.
There is good reason to compare Mr. Trump’s behaviour to those of dictators who have used similar methods to close down independent media houses.
A free media provides an opportunity for all to air their story or grievance. It is only when this delicate balance is maintained that we can hope to find the truth.
It is not for us to intervene in the affairs of the United States, but on a matter as universally important as press freedom, we strongly urge President Trump to take a cue from Graham Greene, who once said, “Don’t despise your enemies, they have a case”.
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