For a governmental body to act in a democratic government there has to be a consensus or a majority vote.
With the media, each reporter is free to report the events of the meeting, a disaster or anything from his perspective.
Granted, the reporter has editors and publishers or producers and network executives to report to, but he does not have to consult with other members of the press.
Therefore, that multitude of interpretations about any event causes people to ask questions, and eventually forces government to respond with accuracy or to take action as needed.
In its role as the Fourth Estate, the traditional news media carries the responsibility seeing that the actions of government are accurately reported. However, the coverage is governed by the various court decisions regarding the right to keep some governmental records and secret and the protection of the rights of individuals.
Honest journalism is based on facts. The interpretation or impact of those facts can be viewed differently by various people. This gives power to the masses. Individuals no longer have to trust one source, or accept what one governmental official says as being factual.
The role of the people in preserving the democracy is greater in the United States because journalists act independently and accordingly, the public must determine what is pertinent and accurate and what may be unimportant or presented in a biased manner.
Journalism is not about fiction. While some publications are able to hide behind the journalistic shield, they are that part of a free press that deals in rumor instead of facts and has no respect for privacy, when that privacy is deserved.
The line is blurred regarding talk shows. The traditional “Sunday Morning” shows like ‘Meet the Press,’ certainly fall into the field of journalism.
However, talk shows, where the occasional guest is a public official, or the show is built around satire of conditions in this country, including the press, are not really part of the press. This is because they are not bound, even in theory, by a code of accuracy or fairness.
Thus, these venues, while offering some insight, should not be viewed as part of the press.
However, newspapers, radio and television stations do engage in offering opinions. Take the average newspaper. It will have an editorial page. That page will feature the opinion of the newspaper about a local, national or international event. The page might include some syndicated columnists, and finally letters to the editor from the general public. This page is an opinion page. For newspapers, the same rules of fairness apply.
This page is but one part of the paper. There is the comic page, the classified ads and the television listings. Just like television networks have commercials that have nothing to do with news and commentators who voice opinions, each is offering a different facet of journalism. Furthermore, each is making money through the sales of ads to pay reporters, cameramen, press operators and all the others.
While the press is an entity that presents the news, it is also a business that must meet expenses and still show a profit. They are a business. The primary product is news.
Radio talk shows, where one person will present his views on topics of the day, or the Internet blogger, are not part of the journalistic community. These people are not exercising the right of the freedom of the press. They are exercising their right to free speech. A noted earlier, the Founding Fathers gave three distinct rights in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, freedom of speech, press and assembly.
Thus, voicing personal views is a right granted and protected by the constitution, it does not mean that person or that television or radio show is part of the press and accordingly enjoys that freedom and the responsibility for accuracy.
Therefore, the public has a greater responsibility in separating the news from fiction, separating factual information from intentional and unintentional bias and understanding that just because a person might sit in front of a microphone, does not mean he is a journalist.
The journalists, the satirists and opinionated radio and television people have one common point. They are all dependent upon the protections granted by the First Amendment. It is up to the people to separate the free press, from the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly.
When Edmund Burke described the press as the Fourth Estate, he was adding a new element to the concept of checks and balances. In the United States, our government is designed in a manner that the three branches of government, the Presidency, Congress and Supreme Court, acts as a checks and balance system. Congress can pass a law, and the President can veto it. A law can be passed and signed by the president but found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, provided someone brings the issue to the court and goes through the lower courts before being considered by the Supreme Court, which can refuse to hear the case.
The news media reports these actions and responses of the government officials and the citizens, while investigating the importance or impacts that the law in question might have on the nation or various individuals. So, by virtue of its purpose to report the news, the journalists in this country become a part of the checks and balance system by assuring that the public is aware of what is taking place.