Fourth Estate and the Kuki people

Published on September 18, 2007

By David Buhril

September 19, 2007: Today, I am compelled to stress on the necessity of the fourth estate, which is the other name for the press or journalism, than merely dishing out the list of multiplying institutions that are offering the courses. Not that I will not be touching them.

But, after much analysis of our social mindset, social expectations, our education and the prospects that we attached to it, I strongly felt that I must stress on the subject with a bold underline to every word, which will be more a critical analysis of our society with the fourth estate.

 

When I was asked by the President of the Kuki Students’ Organisation to speak on Journalism and its prospects for the students, I was flooded with too many questions, with many unanswered. I would like to raise few questions here so that we seriously inquire for the answers.

 

I reminded myself that the Kuki people stands out to own the biggest number of bureaucrats, politicians, and pastors in Manipur. But why is that there are no journalists? That led me further to investigate the state of our society.

 

I cannot help, but  say that our progress as a people is yet very incomplete for we missed out that fourth pillar, the Fourth Estate, which should otherwise act as the voice, ears, eyes, nose, strength and image of us as a progressive people. I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson’s saying on the necessity of a free press.

 

He said: “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
 
The significance of a newspaper or the fourth estate and the people who runs them was greatly acknowledged by Thomas Jefferson who prefers a newspaper to a government. A retreat to our current history as well as the present scenario reveals that we have been severely exerting all our efforts to grind out bureaucrats, politicians and pastors, but not for newspaper or journalist.

 

Why, is the big question here. Is it because of our ignorance? Is it because our society did not glorify the job and its service as worthy? Is it because our education systems are not oriented to it? Or is it because our knowledge and understanding of the might and power of the Fourth Estate is limited? Or is it because we don’t have the need for the fourth estate?
 
I believe that if we could delve into these questions and seek for its answers, we would exhume the importance of the fourth estate, which will further enthuse and enhance us to be a part of the significant four.
 
Comparing traditional European society and modern Kuki society

In traditional European society, there were usually three estates that enjoyed a specified share in government – the nobility, the clergy, and the commons. The functions of the nobility were to defend society from foreign aggression and internal disorder. The clergy attends to its spiritual needs while the common people work to produce the base with which to support the other two orders.

 

When parliaments and representative assemblies developed from the 13th century, their organization reflected this theory, with separate houses for the nobility, the commons and the clergy. The fourth estate is the press, which the British politician Edmund Burke coined the term in the 18th century.
 
By calling the press a “fourth estate,” Burke meant to stress on the press abilities to influence public opinion that made it an important source in the governance of a nation. In modern times, we see the role of a free press differently, but still in quasi-institutional terms.  It has gone beyond what Justice Potter Stewart saw, the role of a free press, as essential in exposing corruption and keeping the political process honest. Today we need the press to talk about everything imaginable.
 
The fourth estate was and still is seen as the voice and eyes of the people vis-à-vis the government and the society at large. However, the absence of that in our society necessitated question again. The question is, are we living with the absence of the fourth estate because we did not have the government, the clergy or the common people?
 
In the traditional European society, critical utterances about the government, either written or spoken, were subject to punishment. The English law also does that. It did not matter whether what had been printed was true. However, the government saw the very fact of the criticism as an evil, since it cast doubt on the integrity and reliability of public officers. Progress toward a truly free press, that is, one in which people could publish their views without fear of government reprisal, was halting.
    
The same seems to be our reality today with the Kuki society, with fear and apprehension dominating the prospect of freedom of expression. Has that become a threat to situate itself permanently in our society to further murder the significance of the fourth estate, making itself a no appealing avenue for the new generation?
 
Today, our society’s burden of small arms race, internal displacement, under-development, neglect and marginalisation, corruption, lack of awareness and ignorance, and degeneration in all areas are partly a result of the absence of the fourth estate. The absence of it fails to access us with that necessary platform where opinion could be initiated, expressed or mobilise.

 

Many a times, we counted on our elected representatives to raise our issues and plights, which they failed to respond. Many a times we looked to the government to provide us with all sorts of security for our welfare and development.

 

In our progress with time, we ended up as poor reactionists and weak negotiators despite the power based on us. The reason again is, we don’t have the fourth estate to plant all these necessities in the consciousness of the people, authorities and all who matters. As a result, we, as a people, today, are suffering from any sense of collectivity to talk about our issues, politics, and visions for our future.
 
Fourth Estate and its importance

The fourth estate has been a recourse against abuses of power within the democratic structures of our societies. It is not unusual for the three traditional areas of power – legislative, executive and judicial – to make mistakes and operate less perfectly than they might. In a democratic framework the press have often seen it as a duty to denounce such violations of human rights. Sometimes journalists have paid the price – they have been physically attacked, murdered or have disappeared, which is still happening everywhere.

 

This is why, in the phrase attributed to Edmund Burke, journalism is the “fourth estate”. With the civic responsibility of the media and the courage of individual journalists, this fourth estate has provided a fundamental and democratic means for people to criticise, reject and reverse decisions that are unfair, unjust, illegal and sometimes even criminal against innocent, helpless and voiceless people.  The fourth estate represents the voice of those who have no voice.
 
Over the past years, while the acceleration of globalisation confronts the global village with the fourth estate negotiating with new actors that grows out of  capitalism – the industrial and the financial, the market and the state, the public services and the private sector, the individual and society, the personal and the collective, egoism and solidarity.

 

However still, within this geo-economic framework there has been a decisive transformation in the mass media, striking at the heart of their structure as industries. This is never missing with the progressing time, despite the big miss on our part.

 

The mass communications media (radio, newspapers, television, internet) are today being realigned to create media groups with a world vocation. The growth of media groups have realised that the revolution in new technology has greatly increased the possibilities for expansion.

 

The digital revolution shattered the divisions that previously separated the three traditional forms of communication (sound, text and images) and allowed the creation and growth of the internet. This has now become a new form of communication, a means of self-expression, information- access and entertainment.


On the other hand, on our part, while we are confronting the issues and problems of food shortages, insecurities, militancy and armaments, ethnicity and its politics, environmental problems, deplorable health conditions, poor traditional education and agriculture system, etc., we do so without the necessary fourth estate. In the process, we failed to rise to become a significant actor, as we have no strength of the fourth estate to accelerate our efforts.
 
If we critically analyse our problems as well as the prospect for it, they are all intimately linked with the fourth estate. However, in our case and context, we failed to establish any relation with the necessary fourth estate. The conversion of plights and issues into representative policies is accessed and enabled by the fourth estate. Creating a space for the fourth estate would require the force of ideas for which the new generations should be prepared.

 

Changes in media coverage can effectively exercise an effective influence on political transition, welfare, development, education, economy, etc. Besides, the existence and development of the fourth estate is associated with the whole process of democracy and shaping of public opinion. If not, it still helps to reinforce mobilization that was already underway.

The state of the fourth estate is one of the elements that reflects and determines all aspects of society. In many countries it is the fourth estate that stand to represent the country’s modern and democratic hue. While societies outside us are celebrating the benefits of the fourth estate, we are severely suffering the absence of it. It is time we bring about a change.
 
How do we react to all of these challenges? How can we defend ourselves? How can we resist, negotiate, bargain and present ourselves? The answer is simple. We need to invest our resources towards establishing and securing a healthy fourth estate to which I call upon the new generations to make the necessary difference by being a part of it.

 

This paper was presented at a seminar organized by the Kuki Students’ Organisation (KSO) at the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, on September 1, 2007.