It was the year 1787 when Edmund Burke, a very influential Anglo-Irish writer, orator and politician at that time coined during one of his speeches in the House of Commons the term "fourth estate". Until then the powers of society were a tripod. Burke pointed to the tribunes where the three powers of Parliament sat: the Spiritual Lords (representatives of the church), the Temporal Lords (the nobility) and the Commons (the politicians). Then he raised his hand and looked up and pointed to the rostrum where the journalists were: "There sits the fourth estate."

Although Burke was not referring to a specific power but to the place they occupied in the British Parliament, it was the first time that the press acquired a role that until then nobody had given it. The real value of that term came many years later.

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It was the historian Thomas Macaulay who came up with the phrase "journalism is the fourth estate". That phrase linking the press with power and attributing the fourth rank to it generated so much fortune that, born and prosperous throughout the nineteenth century, it sailed triumphantly through the twentieth. And it broke in XXI, didn't it?

The emergence of fake news, the polarization established in society, the lack of credibility have placed the famous phrase in an increasingly weak position. However, despite this image of asthenia and crisis of the media, it is still possible to continue coining Macaulay's phrase.

This is reflected in the study on consumption and information patterns carried out by the BBVA Foundation, which concludes that the majority of Spaniards recognize "the fundamental role of the media to understand current events, guide decision-making and control political power."

For citizens, the main task of the media is to be "the watchmen of public decision-makers"

The report, carried out by surveying a sample of 2,000 people representative of the Spanish population, has examined not only the image that citizens have of the media, but also the trust they generate.

Even so, he warns that "the clearly positive perception that most citizens have about the social and institutional function of the media does not prevent it from coexisting with a critical vision" in terms of its contribution to "the political polarization of society, and its independence from political and business interests."

Regardless of the wide use of the Internet as a channel for monitoring current affairs (53% consult exclusively digital newspapers), the report is very revealing, since it shows that media with exclusively digital content, without links to conventional media, do not obtain the same level of credibility and trust that newspapers achieve -both printed and digital ones that also have paper editions-, radio and television.

In fact, the trust that Spaniards continue to place in the media despite "the dangers of journalism" is very important to explain the fundamental role that Spaniards continue to give to the media: for citizens the main task of the media is to be "the watchmen of public decision-makers". "The majority of citizens continue to recognize the social and institutional function of the media as a check on political power," the study reveals.

This, in turn, also explains the broad interest of citizens in current information. There is a widespread consensus among Spaniards about the importance of being informed (75% of respondents qualify it as "very important"). Spaniards want and need to be informed, and it is not precisely politics that generates the most interest in them. Social issues (83%)), health (81%), education (79%), local affairs (77%) and environment (74%) are the topics that appeal to us the most. Politics (68%)), security and crime (67%) or the economy (58%) are in the middle of the table, whilenews about celebrities generate the least interest, 21%.

The irruption of the Internet

And what happens to the media after the emergence of the Internet? The potential damage to journalism from these new forms of communication is almost a constant in any analysis of the future of mainstream media. Since the World Wide Web came to homes as a member of the family, the debate is on the table. The Internet is today a central space in the monitoring of current events, both as a vehicle for conventional media and exclusively digital content. The greatest weight is social networks, according to the study: 61% of respondents declare that it is their main source of information about current affairs. In addition, more than a third of the population consults other Internet sites such as news aggregators (36%) and blogs (34%).

Information from social networks, blogs and news aggregators is below the trust threshold

By focusing on the use of social networks, again, the results of the study reflect how conventional media have adapted not only to the progressive advance of digitalization and the continuous transformation, but also to the formats of this channel. That is, the media "maintain an important influence among citizens", and this occurs because social platforms "also function as a vehicle for the link of society with these conventional media and with professional groups of the same, which enjoy greater confidence".

Although it may be surprising, yes, Spanish society continues to trust newspapers, radio and television because "their level of trust is not so much due to the access channel itself, but to who generates and supports the information in each case". The mainstream media thus approves in credibility and influence. The study leaves no doubt: the majority of Spaniards consider that the information transmitted by these media is "objective and truthful", with an average score of 5.1 out of 10, compared to 3.9 given to the information transmitted by social networks.

  • media
  • Journalism

According to the criteria of The Trust Project

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