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fourth estate

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See also public and private spheres; compare fifth estate.

1. Newspapers in particular, and the news media in general, regarded as a legitimate political force performing a watchdog function. A vague metaphor that draws upon the medieval concept of the three estates of the realm: the spiritual authority of the church, the secular authority of nobles, and the mass authority of the ‘commons’ (or the people, later the bourgeoisie). The concept is attributed to the Irish statesman Edmund Burke (1729–97).

2. For Marx, the urban proletariat.

Subjects: Media studies

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