Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Press is the Fourth Estate and Social Media the Fifth Estate

By Rabin Man Shakya
Former Lecturer of Journalism, Peoples Campus and RR Campus, TU.

The Press is referred to as the Fourth Estate for its effective role to mould  the public opinion for or against the crucial and burning issues facing the community or the nation. The Press is assumed to play a vital social and community role in the context of the First Estate (government), the Second Estate (judiciary) and the Third Estate (church). The Press is one of the strongest weapons in showing the world the devastating consequences of war, injustice, impunity, wrongdoings and malpractices. An independent and free media is a cornerstone of democracy and good governance.

To say the least, Nepal's political parties are not working effectively for the cause of the people. The Nepalese political stalwarts seem to be convinced that the Nepalese people have no alternatives left to supporting the crooked, nefarious and corrupt leaders. The aspirations of the Nepalese people have been shattered time and again by these shrewd and cunning politicos. In such a situation, the role of media and social media is particularly important in exerting pressure on the politicians and political parties to become more responsible, more honest and to rise above the petty partisan and parochial interest in issues of national interest.

Comparing to young people and adults in their 30s and 50s, the septuagenarian and octogenarian people are far less  attracted to the social media sites, than reading newspapers and watching  TV for infotainment. In case of developing countries like Nepal, the number of the the people in their seventies and eighties using the social media is even negligible. The senior citizens are still relying on the traditional journalism for getting news and information, more so in case  of developing countries like Nepal.

In case of the US, more than 90 per cent of the American adults have a cell phone and more than half are smart phones which are pretty much used for Internet and social media activities as well enabling them to work as small laptops. Social media is creating a new audience for news, just as TV did a half century ago. In case of newspapers, radio and TV, it is one voice speaking to many, giving the same message to many people. But with social media, it is many voices being disseminated to a number of people instantly.

Therefore, today more than ever, people are using smart phones and tablets to learn about what is happening in the world. No wonder, the circulation of newspapers and magazines are on the decline in advanced countries like the US, and no wonder, the online news revenue has surpassed the revenue of the print journalism prompting the newspapers to jump on the online news bandwagon.

Tech titans Google and Facebook are changing the perspectives, lifestyle and cultures of the people across the world. Today more than ever, the social media is exploding with new information, photos, comments, quotes, articles and views. It goes without saying the role of social media is more effective, more far-reaching and more ubiquitous than the mainstream journalism. Therefore, it is no wonder that the social media is being called the Fifth Estate by some pundits.

As of now, there are still some pitfalls in case of the social media. Social media (like Twitter) can not tell the story or the breaking news in detail. Cases of factual inaccuracies in the social media "breaking news" is rampant, and  the social responsibility  factor is violated more in the social media than in the mainstream journalism.

Therefore, even if the role of social media is more ubiquitous than the mainstream journalism, the social media does not and can not replace the mainstream media, at least for now. Watchdog role of the traditional mainstream journalism is still more relevant and more important than the social media.

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