Collected effort needed to stand up for the Fourth Estate

By Vivian Warby

ANA Publishing

Cape Town, South Africa


For a moment, if you will: Silence every media house and every journalist. Switch off their social media accounts. Take them out of war zones and countries that seek to silence their masses.

What does your world look like? How do you make sense of all the noise — or all the silence? How do you access the experts? How do you know what is fake and what is not? How do you know that the oceans are dying or how to help make this a better world if you don’t even know what’s going on in it?

Journalists are essential in helping people make sense of the world around them, and they need to be able to do their work free from harassment.
Journalists are essential in helping people make sense of the world around them, and they need to be able to do their work free from harassment.

It’s both a chaotic and silent world without a trustworthy Fourth Estate. Yet, increasingly, media is under attack. It’s a war out there, and journalists can sometimes feel like the unarmed.

There are subtle ways journalism is being hounded, from the screams of “the media only peddles negativity” and the shouts of “fake news” to the outright physical attack on journalists. Things are not looking good, especially for honourable journalists wanting to make positive impacts.

I recently read a story in which journalists were attacked for not making enough of the recent IPCC report because “it’s a poor man’s problem and the media doesn’t care about that.” However, I know that, long before (and long after) the IPCC report, journalists have committed daily to telling the story of climate change and also of how it affects the poor the most.

In a recent podcast, a host was saying how journalists benefit from wars. The host said it pushes up their numbers and ratings. Really?

At the same time, in the weekly newsletter I receive from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), I read how many journalists are arrested in their countries for merely reporting the news. How some people are held without trial, and, worst still, how some are killed.

The story of the attack on journalists from all sides is ongoing. Added to that, we face annihilation from dwindling advertising revenues, amongst other things.

I believe there is an urgent need for a coming together to chart a new way forward if we hope to be here for the long run.

It is also time for some introspection, for admitting where we have failed, and for stepping up where we can — especially to protect journalists in an ever-hostile environment.

At this tipping point, I really believe it’s important for all of us to put our ideas and selves forward as we grapple with the next phase and road that journalism will take. The path should not only be paved by a handful of people but by everyone invested and interested in the future of journalism, how it can remain relevant, and how it can best serve humanity.

So, my advice to all journalists, new and seasoned, is to put your hands up as often as possible, let your good voices be heard, and your ideas known. There is such an opportunity at this tipping point to create something worthy. But a lot will need to be done.

Let’s not let that put us off as we take this opportunity to rebuild a refreshed Fourth Estate that can make a positive contribution to this new and exciting world within which we find ourselves.

About Vivian Warby

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