Fourth Estate, public interest & standards in public life

Notes to accompany Exeter Observer community journalism courses and news writing seminars.

Fourth Estate & public interest

Three mediaeval political classes with representation in parliament:

plus “mob or public press”, with unofficial but significant influence on public affairs

Term first used when press reporting began in House of Commons (1787):

“[Edmund] Burke said there were three estates in Parliament; but, in the reporters’ gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all”, Thomas Carlyle, 1840

Same year US constitution created with three branches of government:

plus fourth influencing/supporting/opposing other three

inc. press + pressure/campaign/community groups etc.

so explicitly emphasises independence, complexity & public interest role

Standards in public life

Nolan Principles (1995) ethical standards expected of public office holders:

inc. elected/appointed, local/national, government/police/courts/public bodies, health/education/social/care services

From Heather Brooke to Edward Snowden:

Since 2016 EU referendum:

2019 General election campaign:


vs. declining democracy/transparency/trust/engagement and increasing populism:

Press standards:

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