It was in 1787 that the Irish philosopher and statesman, Edmund Burke, first coined the phrase “the Fourth Estate” to describe the influence of the press on society.
More than 100 years later, his countryman Oscar Wilde lamented what he saw as the domination of journalism over the other three estates: the crown, the executive arm of government, and parliament. In modern times, that is now regarded as representing the government, parliament and the judiciary.
More than a century beyond that again, the power of the press is waning and the only way to save it is by government intervention, either in the form of subsidy or tax incentives.
British prime minister Theresa May has just announced an inquiry into the sustainability of Britain’s printed press.
Here, Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley is preparing a bill designed to protect traditional journalism.
But why should anyone support this, given that other older industries have had to face either monumental change or annihilation?
The press is different because it occupies a unique place in society, protecting democracy and holding governments and powerful interests to account, without fear or favour.
Without a vibrant and sustainable Fourth Estate, we are likely to end up with nothing more than a First Estate — a
the totalitarian regime and oppressive society.
Just like democracy, a free press is worth protecting.