Media in Canada

Scholars of the media in Canada may have heard the term, fourth estate, applied to the full spectrum of the industry.  The media is generally thought to involve radio, television, newspapers, and magazines but the computer age has added telecommunications via the computer to that list, as well.  The fourth estate implies the press, in general.

Many students will wonder, if the media in Canada and elsewhere is the fourth estate, what are the first three?  And why is the press - typically journalists, reports, editors, and publishers - called an estate?

The answers to those questions are found in the French Revolution, when only three estates were royally recognized.  These three estates comprised the Estates General, a collective of dignitaries and government officials casually referred to today as the Establishment.

In the days of Louis XVI, three hundred clergymen represented the First Estate.  Three hundred gentlemen of the nobility made up the Second Estate.  The Third Estate included six hundred members who represented commoners.  Collectively, this group of men was the Estates General.

Years after the French Revolution, British statesman Edmund Burke was addressing the House of Commons when he gestured to the press gallery.  Doing so, he said, “Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.”

Students of the media in Canada are embarking on a mission many people consider quite sacred, that of reporting the truth, with fairness and dignity to all.  Tabloid journalists may not uphold such lofty goals but many serious journalists and other members of the fourth estate are willing to put their lives on the line to make sure a story is presented with absolute accuracy.