Fifth Colum­nists and The Fifth Es­tate

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

By Earl Bous­quet

Back in the first quar­ter of the 19th cen­tury, when Ed­mund Burke re­ferred to the Re­porters Gallery in the House of Com­mons as The Fourth Es­tate, he never imag­ined his de­scrip­tion of The Press back then would still be alive and well some two hun­dred years later, all the way across the At­lantic in these dis­tant isles of yore.

Of course, Burke never meant for his phrase to be­come the fa­ble it is made out to be to­day. He never once men­tioned it in any of his pub­lished works. But many who don’t know its ori­gin be­have as if The Fourth Es­tate is some prop­erty that only the press can claim and own.

Lord Ma­caulay (in his Hal­lam in 1828) would use the phrase to ex­plain what Burke had said many years ear­lier, that The Gallery (in the Com­mons) where the re­porters sit has be­come a fourth es­tate of the realm.

None of those hold­ing on to the phrase for dear life to­day have of­fered any inkling of their knowl­edge of the other Three Es­tates or what realm they formed part of in Burke’s time – or now.

And then there is that other age-old ref­er­ence to Fifth Colum­nists. My im­pec­ca­ble ref­er­ence source de­scribes it as Traitors, those within a coun­try who are work­ing for the en­emy, of­ten by in­fil­trat­ing key po­si­tions and seek­ing to un­der­mine the body politic from within.

Of course, there is a vast ocean of dif­fer­ence be­tween a colum­nist writ­ing on­line or in the papers and the fight­ers Gen­eral Mola was re­fer­ring to when he said dur­ing the Span­ish Civil War (1936-39) that he had four col­umns en­cir­cling Madrid and a fifth col­umn work­ing for him in the city. There could very well be oc­ca­sional ref­er­ences here to Fifth Colum­nists of The Fourth Es­tate to­day – de­pend­ing, of course, on who is search­ing where. But even be­fore start­ing our search en­gines, we may want to first re­al­ize that there is also The Fifth Es­tate to deal with, but about which I am hear­ing nary a word.

Ac­cord­ing to my same ir­refutable source, the term The Fifth Es­tate is joc­u­larly ap­plied (in Bri­tain) to var­i­ous so-called au­thor­i­ties such as the BBC, the trade unions and so on, fol­low­ing on The Fourth Es­tate.

So, by all the above ac­counts, The Fourth and Fifth Es­tates dif­fer as much as the colum­nists who scrib­ble and those who march.

Fast-for­ward to here and to­day . . .

Do we have a Re­porters Gallery in the House of the type that led Burke to coin his catchy and prop­er­tied phrase?

When last did any oc­cu­pier of our Re­porters Gallery file a story that would have forced any MP here to pay re­spect due, by way of duly re­spect­ing the power of the pen, a la Burke?

We don’t have a BBC here but in an age when lo­cal re­porters have al­ready started re­call­ing those good old days when May Day was Labour Day, can we clas­sify our trade unions as The Fifth Es­tate? I re­ally don’t know…

Take how we (in the press) cover(ed) the ap­point­ment of a new po­lice com­mis­sioner. The Gov­ern­ment went by the book, through the Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion. But the Op­po­si­tion says it will pre­fer a po­lice com­mis­sioner to be in­ter­viewed for the job, not by the com­mis­sion, but by elected par­lia­men­tar­i­ans in the House. The Op­po­si­tion says the Prime Min­is­ter should have no say in the mat­ter. But its pro­posal is to re­move the power to ap­point a po­lice com­mis­sioner from one politi­cian and put it in the hands of sev­eral.

That sounds to me like try­ing to de­politi­cize the se­lec­tion process by deeper politi­ciz­ing it. But I sup­pose it is only me that sees it that way.

Sim­i­larly, the press here keeps re­fer­ring to the cur­rent holder as the New Po­lice Com­mis­sioner, even though the same press re­ported (when he was named as the man of choice) that his ap­point­ment will be re­viewed af­ter a cer­tain pe­riod on the job.

In my book, that makes the cur­rent holder of the post an Act­ing Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice. But try sell­ing that to Our Fourth Es­tate!

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch starred as Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange in the Fifth Es­tate, a dra­matic thriller based on real events that re­veals the quest to ex­pose the de­cep­tions and cor­rup­tions of power that turned an In­ter­net up­start into the 21st cen­tury’s most fiercely de­bated or­ga­ni­za­tion. Is Saint Lu­cia ready for its own As­sange or is there one within the Fourth Es­tate?

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