The Fourth Estate
Mass media perform a vital and a crucial role in society. They are called the Fourth Estate, as they are one of the pillars of democracy along with the executive, legislature, and the other socioeconomic forces that bind a society together. In this context, it is important to note that they are both the watchdogs of public behavior of elected officials and custodians of popular goodwill as they seek to report on the goings-on in society.
Hence, mass media are especially relevant to society because without the media, we would never know what is happening in the world around us and be without the moral compass and ethical conscience needed to hold society together. The point here is that like all opinion makers, the mass media has both a duty and a responsibility towards society and this is the reason it is considered a vital part of modern democracies.
Given the important role that mass media plays in society, recent trends indicate that the mass media is reneging on its social responsibility and instead of becoming hostage to special interests and vested agendas. The phenomenon of paid news manipulated content, and bargaining with corporates in order to portray them in a favorable light or outright demands for bribes in order to not air content are all pointers to the degeneration that has taken place within the context of the contemporary times.
Further, the mass media themselves have become susceptible to corrupt practices and given the fact that they are the gatekeepers for democracy, these tendencies must be avoided. As the scandals over many prominent media houses in the UK and the US reveal, the mass media are no longer independent purveyors of truth but instead have become the tools of special interests.
The transition from Newspapers to Digital Media
According to many observers, the transition from print media to digital media (TV, Internet, and Social Media) has made mass media more powerful as it gives them access to Billions of viewers and lacks of geographical constraints as is the case with newspapers. Hence, they are now bestowed with superior powers over society. This raises the prospect of falling prey to manipulation and pushing agendas easier. However, it needs to be mentioned that this is precisely the reason they should not succumb to the temptations of taking the easy way out, as they now are responsible for events on a global scale as opposed to happenings on a local or regional level.
It is indeed the case that mass media are critically relevant to society because of the various reasons discussed above. Further, it is also the fact that the mass media are now in a position wherein they can make or mar the chances of celebrities, politicians, businesspersons, and sportspersons. Hence, the responsibility, which has been vested with them by society, has to be exercised judiciously and not carelessly or with a hidden agenda. In conclusion, the mass media have surely come a long way since the time they used to report on city and council events. Now, they have a global platform and global responsibilities, which means that they should have a conscience as well.