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News media : is the "fourth estate a power?

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  1. A powerful actor - The monopoly of information
    1. The four faces of the media: a vector, an investigator, a manipulator and a despot
    2. The media and the three faces of power
  2. A constrained actor - A salutary competition
    1. The media as a political and as an economic actor
    2. A news media elite?

Today, the permanent and instantaneous flow of information pass through a wide range of channels, called 'the media'. There are two types of channels: print media (e.g. newspapers) and broadcast media (e.g. television, radio). It is precisely the capacity to create information, that is at the very heart of the issue of power of the media. What is the exact political role of the news media? The media is an instrument of major importance for the citizens who must control their government and grant it legitimacy. Therefore, the existence of the media is constituent of a free and democratic society. However, the media is not only a sum of mediums, it is also a political actor. The way a topic is chosen, treated and presented to the audience implies a lot of political choices, when there are at the same time a painful war where civilians are dying and a terrible economic crisis, choosing one of these events to be in the headlines of a newspaper is indeed a choice. That is why newspapers, and more generally the media, are called the 'fourth estate', or, more unequivocally, the 'fourth power'. But is the media really a power in the sense that it could make an event happen or prevail over an individual despite his or her resistance? If it is, who is deciding the use of this power, and over whom is this power exercised?

[...] Conclusion The news media can survive only by selling information to a broad audience, that is to say by satisfying society's interest. As we showed it, the news media can be very powerful as it can manipulate its audience and control the political agenda. But because of the legal, moral and economic constraints, the media's power is framed; moreover, because the media is an economic actor, in a free society, no media can totally control society: another media will always compete with it to provide a better information and attract its audience. [...]


[...] The news media has a political role within society: because individuals have decided to cede their natural rights (social contract theories[4]) to the State as a sovereign authority, in order for it to ensure peace and security within civil society, they need to be sure that the State won't abuse its power and to stay permanently informed about how the State uses its power to protect citizens and to deal with matters of public interest (education, health, etc.) The media is an instrument of major importance for the citizens who must control their government and grant it legitimacy. [...]


[...] This fourth face of the news media power thus makes it not only a political actor, but also an omnipotent actor that can mislead the society, that is to say a despot. The media and the three faces of power This list of faces of the media, even though further study would show it is not exhaustive, highlights the fact that the media has influence on society. In order to understand how to qualify the power of the news media, it has to be seen at the light of Steven Lukes's three faces of power theory[14]. [...]

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