Back in the first quarter of the 19th century, when Edmund Burke referred to the Reporters Gallery in the House of Commons as The Fourth Estate, he never imagined his description of The Press back then would still be alive and well some two hundred years later, all the way across the Atlantic in these distant isles of yore. Of course, Burke never meant for his phrase to become the fable it is made out to be today. He never once mentioned it in any of his published works. But many who don’t know its origin behave as if The Fourth Estate is some property that only the press can claim and own.
Lord Macaulay (in his Hallam in 1828) would use the phrase to explain what Burke had said many years earlier, that The Gallery (in the Commons) where the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm.
None of those holding on to the phrase for dear life today have offered any inkling of their knowledge of the other Three Estates or what realm they formed part of in Burke’s time – or now.
And then there is that other age-old reference to Fifth Columnists. My impeccable reference source describes it as Traitors, those within a country who are working for the enemy, often by infiltrating key positions and seeking to undermine the body politic from within.
Of course, there is a vast ocean of difference between a columnist writing online or in the papers and the fighters General Mola was referring to when he said during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) that he had four columns encircling Madrid and a fifth column working for him in the city.
There could very well be occasional references here to Fifth Columnists of The Fourth Estate today – depending, of course, on who is searching where. But even before starting our search engines, we may want to first realize that there is also The Fifth Estate to deal with, but about which I am hearing nary a word.
According to my same irrefutable source, the term The Fifth Estate is jocularly applied (in Britain) to various so-called authorities such as the BBC, the trade unions and so on, following on The Fourth Estate.
So, by all the above accounts, The Fourth and Fifth Estates differ as much as the columnists who scribble and those who march.
Fast-forward to here and today . . .
Do we have a Reporters Gallery in the House of the type that led Burke to coin his catchy and propertied phrase?
When last did any occupier of our Reporters Gallery file a story that would have forced any MP here to pay respect due, by way of duly respecting the power of the pen, a la Burke?
We don’t have a BBC here but in an age when local reporters have already started recalling those good old days when May Day was Labour Day, can we classify our trade unions as The Fifth Estate?
I really don’t know…
Take how we (in the press) cover(ed) the appointment of a new police commissioner. The Government went by the book, through the Public Service Commission. But the Opposition says it will prefer a police commissioner to be interviewed for the job, not by the commission, but by elected parliamentarians in the House.
The Opposition says the Prime Minister should have no say in the matter. But its proposal is to remove the power to appoint a police commissioner from one politician and put it in the hands of several.
That sounds to me like trying to depoliticize the selection process by deeper politicizing it. But I suppose it is only me that sees it that way.
Similarly, the press here keeps referring to the current holder as the New Police Commissioner, even though the same press reported (when he was named as the man of choice) that his appointment will be reviewed after a certain period on the job.
In my book, that makes the current holder of the post an Acting Commissioner of Police. But try selling that to Our Fourth Estate!