31 August 2009
There is much assumed about the powerful role of mass media in society. Among the leading assumptions is the existence of a Fourth Estate; an institution that protects the public from the excesses of the state. Such an assumption requires fulfilment of two conditions. First, that the public interest is in fact the leading motivating factor of the mass media. Second, the assertion of a Fourth Estate assumes political accountability and public engagement in politics.
To challenge this conventional ‘wisdom' one need look no further than a communications foul-up during the aftermath of a chemical spill in July, 2009, in Riga, Latvia. Greg Simons was sitting in a flat in Riga, channel surfing and trying to find something decent on TV in the run up to the New Wave music festival at Jurmala. It soon became obvious to him that something was seriously wrong, and that something wrong was happening in Riga. The local journalists seemed to be in a bustling state of excitement and intense activity.