The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

Law and Society Tripe - and medieval media claptrap
A Senior Editor of the Lake House press referred to the description of ''fourth estate'' last week at a Law and Society Trust sponsored seminar as "medieval rhetoric.'' (It is on tape courtesy Trans Asia.)

The ''medieval rhetoric' description from a state-controlled-press scribe came when this writer said that "a free independent press generally referred to as the Fourth Estate is considered one of the pillars of an efficient functioning democracy.'' Which of course it is.

"The term Fourth Estate was coined by Lord Macaulay in 1828 because of the importance the members of the press played as a political force. He described the gallery of the House of Commons in which reporters sit, as the 'fourth estate of the realm.' The traditional three estates being the lords spiritual, the lords temporal and the commons. In the modern sense the three are Judiciary, Executive and Legislature. The recognition of the importance of the media is reflected in our Constitution. Section 16 (1) of our Constitution enshrines in our Bill of Rights. The section states it categorically that this freedom of expression includes "…freedom of the press and other media…." (Professor Kader Asmal speaking to the Foreign Correspondents in Johannesburg.)

In the modern sense therefore, the four estates are Executive, Judiciary and Legislature, followed by the Fourth Estate, the press.

"Over the years, the press has become so powerful that it has soon acquired unique status of "Fourth Estate". It is supposed to play a key role and a crucial role of a watchdog, to see that the other three institutions legislature, Executive, Judiciary function fairly within the constitutional framework and serve the people for whose welfare they were created.'' (Justice K. J. Reddy, inaugural function of the India First Foundation.'')

The term Fourth Estate, coined in the 19th century -- is by no means medieval rhetoric -- and is, as the above quotes show, a term that connotes in no uncertain terms that the press, as Fourth Estate, is one pillar of a democratic state, next to the Judiciary the Executive and the Legislature. This is why, Mr blissfully-ignorant-scribe, the press is called the Fourth Estate, and not the Fifteenth estate or the Twentieth estate for instance.

This then is the trouble with today's NGO sponsored Media Democracy and Human Rights champions, who do not know the fundamentals of what they are talking about, and have to write copious and pompous papers to make claims such as "pronouncements by the media about its role in society is replete with claims about fulfilling a vital function in democratic society.''

It is not a new claim - this claim by the media that it is fulfilling a vital function in democratic society. Copious papers do not have to be written about it, because, even though the paper presenters, with all they get from the NGO gravy train and their ingratiating sponsors don't know it -- the fact is that the press has fundamentally and for long been regarded as (see above) the fourth pillar of a functioning democratic state.

So is it impolite to say what I am saying about today's NGO culture of spurious advocacy of Human Rights Democracy etc., through allies and fellow travellers who are on the gravy train? Whose hypocrisy in advocating human rights while they collude with the state in repressing these same rights through the press, is only exceeded by their lack of knowledge about what democratic freedoms are? What crime have we committed to listen to these people and their declarations on Media and Human Rights, when they do not know (repeat do not even know) what the Fourth Estate is or is supposed to stand for?

No, it is not impolite to talk about this kind of NGO absurd-theatre. Mark Twain understood that mere recitation of facts was not enough - the news needs some attitude: He said (of course in the American context.) "Our newspapers have one peculiarity--it is American--their irreverence . . . They are irreverent toward pretty much everything, but where they laugh one good king to death, they laugh a thousand cruel and infamous shams into the grave, and the account is squared. Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.''

This is why we need to be irreverent of (and laugh to the grave) the sham NGO culture of championing Media and Human Rights. A culture which almost demands our reverence.

One Chairperson at the said Seminar chided this writer for saying something about kept-press free media hypocrites. "This is not what we want'' she began to say. Who cares what you want?

The Seminar was about Media Democracy and Human Rights, and that's what is wanted and what should be talked about, in no uncertain terms , not the self-serving claptrap that the obscenely rapacious and incestuous NGO community wants for itself.

Next time the NGO community wants to insult seminar goers with this kind of tripe from the panel ("Fourth estate is medieval rhetoric'') they might as well announce that this is an exercise by NGO hacks --- of the NGOs for the NGOs and by the NGOs. It has nothing to do with democracy and media and human rights.

When the ''medieval rhetoric'' absurdity was challenged, the panellist had the temerity to say that the Fourth Estate concept is not enshrined in the constitution. That's wrong by far. Our constitution (like the South African constitution, see quote above), guarantees in Article 14 (1) (a) The Freedom of Speech and Expression including Publication. That revelation might be too much for our panellist. But he still couldn't accept that the Fourth Estate is the fourth pillar of a democratic state - - it’s the watchdog in the organic democratic symbiosis that ensures that the other three pillars coexist. It has always been considered so in democracies, as the above quotes show in abundance. Here is one more quote to rub it in: "Freedom of expression and information, as you may be aware, is the cornerstone of democracy in this country. The Fourth Estate, along with the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, hold up the great edifice that is the Democratic Republic of India and, in order to do so, requires to function in an exemplarily free and fair manner.'' (Pamela Phillipose Indian Express.)

Now our spurious NGO champions and their panellists want to stand this centuries old wisdom on its head, and what's more in the name of Human Rights Media and Democracy at that. Mark Twain was right.


The press needs not only to be irreverent, but also to tell these spurious NGO charlatans and their sponsors exactly where to get off.

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