The Death of the Fourth Estate

The Death of the Fourth Estate

How the entire mainstream media is an apologist for corruption and greed

To paraphrase Shakespeare, I come to bury the Fourth Estate, not to praise it. As an instrument of accountability in our society the mainstream media is now largely irrelevant.

The notion that the media  is the fourth estate rests on the idea that the media’s function is to act as a guardian of the public interest and as a watchdog on the activities of government. The original three estates were the UK House of Commons and the Clergy (the Lords Spiritual) and the Hereditary Lords (the Lords Temporal) in the House of Lords

The “Fourth Estate” describes the journalists’ role in representing the interests of “the people” in relation to the business and political elites who claim to be doing things in our names.

The reality is that the media and its leading exponents are now, largely, apologists for a political system and a society that is corrupt, venal and unequal. That is not to say that there are no exceptions, even among those whose salaries make them part of the elite, but they are rare.

Among those largely perceived not being apologists for our venal and corrupt political masters, such as Laura Tingle or Katharine Murphy, even they largely restrict their criticism to the management and corruption of the existing broken system rather than of the system itself.

The reality is, however, that the symptoms of corruption, inequity, secrecy, greed and incompetence we see on a daily basis is designed into the system as it currently is, and the only solution is a radical re-design of the entire political and economic system that drives those symptoms.

Despite this we see few, if any, of the main presenters on any media channel or newspaper actually questioning the model of extreme capitalism that is driving the disintegration of the USA as well as the extremist movements in most other western countries.

The main problem is that the vast majority of the media, close to 70%, is a part of the Murdoch empire which spews a never ending stream of lies and half truths designed to support the status quo created by 30 years of neo-liberal extremism.

Beyond that reality, almost every leading journalist and presenter in this country is a direct beneficiary of that same status quo. It is difficult to be a member of the elite, the 1%, the super wealthy and at the same time have pretensions to holding that same 1% to account.

According to the ATO, the top 1% of income earners in Australia start at $237,300 (source: ABC)

Leaving aside the membership of this privileged elite, the journalists and presenters that form the $250,000 plus club are also part of a Canberra/political bubble that rub shoulders with the politicians and other members of the oligarchy that they are supposed to hold to account.

Few of these politicians or their journalistic counterparts come into contact with the average Australian and many share a delusion that their salaries are not significantly above average. Why? They work with each other and they increasingly marry each other. In 2010 the Productivity Commission found that 68 per cent of Australia’s high earners were married to other high earners. A decade earlier it was 49 per cent.

And high earners live near each other. The average income in Sydney’s Double Bay (Australia’s highest-earning suburb) is $202,598. The average income in Ruse in Sydney’s Campbelltown is $55,100. The two don’t mix and the rich often have no idea either how wealthy they are nor how poor others are.

Notably, in 2019, Albanese said $200,000 wasn’t the “top end of town”; 2018 was when Morrison unveiled the Stage 3 tax cuts and Albanese wanted to justify not opposing these tax cuts for the wealthy. Similarly the Labor member for the seat of Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon stated in 2013 “In Sydney’s west you can be on a quarter of a million dollars family income a year and you’re still struggling,” 

It’s scarcely surprising that MPs are so out of touch given both the bubble in which they live and the fact that each backbencher gets $211,250  per annum plus a $32,000 electorate allowance plus home internet and travel allowances.

Similarly the very people appointed to hold these people to account are part of the very same elite with The ABC revealing in 2017 that its 20 highest paid presenters and reporters earned between $225,000 and $460,000. The person on $460,000, in 2017 was believed to be Leigh Sales. 

Since none of those people receiving those exorbitant amounts (because you can’t really describe them as “earnings”) actually need those amounts it’s only possible to conclude that they are all complicit in a system that creates exceptional wealth on one hand and poverty, violence and homelessness on the other hand. It’s hard, if not impossible to be both complicit in a corrupt system and hold it accountable.

In reality the typical taxable income (typical in the sense that half earned more than it, half less) was $59,538. Meaning that 50% of the population earn this amount or less (my emphasis). In other words a humble backbencher or a presenter of the 7.30 report earns at least four to five times what a normal Australian worker earns.

Assuming you can believe anything you read in the Daily Mail, it reported in 2020 that Lisa Wilkinson will earn $2.3 million with Channel 10. Despite being offered $1.8 million to stay with Channel 9 she demanded (allegedly) another $500,000. If true, it says something about the greed of the highest paid.

In 2013 leaked salary lists from 2011/2012 showed Q&A host Tony Jones was the ABC’s highest paid talent on $355,789. Leigh Sales was earning $280,400, at that time, while Juanita Phillips was on $316,454. Both women are understood to have boosted their salaries significantly since then.

Other well-paid staff included Quentin Dempster, on $291,505, Richard Glover, on $290,000, Fran Kelly on $255,000, Barrie Cassidy, on $243,478 and Virginia Trioli on $235,664.

These multi-millionaires are the same people we rely on to hold to account our corrupt and venal politicians and the rest of the super wealthy. Go figure, as they say.


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