Can the Ethics of the Fourth Estate Persevere in a Global Age?

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Due to the development of transnational communicative and economic structures, nation states are increasingly unable to be the starting point for journalistic regulation. In this chapter, therefore, I raise the question whether it is possible – and desirable – to have transnational rules for ethically good journalism. I argue that ethical evaluations should focus upon the meeting between normative ideals and factual realities. This meeting is always open because ideals can challenge reality, just as reality can challenge ideals. Ethical questions are thus always raising a fundamental “maybe”.

Traditionally the ideals of journalists have been articulated in close affiliation with ideas of the Fourth Estate. However, due to our globalised communicative structure, this articulation is in need of revision. I argue that the ethical requests change because the structure of Internet-based publics changes. Departing from this situation I suggest that journalistic products are ethically urgent insofar as they both bring communities together and give voice to the inarticulate or voiceless. I argue that in order to substantiate this approach it is important to articulate rules, because rules further the possibility of deliberating disagreements.

The notion of deliberating disagreement is at the core of ethical discussions. I suggest that Habermas’ discourse ethics account may serve as a starting point for articulating a robust body of journalistic ethics. However, two moderations are important: On one hand, the rules and codes should be articulated against a “globalised we”, rather than against the nation state. On the other hand, it is important to realise that the rules do not robustly prescribe what to do. They should serve as a starting point for articulating and discussing disagreements. The openness of the global “maybe” does not call for global agreement but rather for the possibility of discussing disagreements.
Translated title of the contributionKan den fjerde statsmagts etik overleve i den globale tid
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Ethics of Journalism : Individual, Cultural and Institutional Influences
EditorsWendy Wyatt
Number of pages17
PublisherI.B. Tauris
Publication date2014
ISBN (Print)9781780766737
Publication statusPublished - 2014
SeriesReuters Institute for the Study of Journalism


  • media law

Cite this

Hansen, E. (2014). Can the Ethics of the Fourth Estate Persevere in a Global Age? In W. Wyatt (Ed.), The Ethics of Journalism: Individual, Cultural and Institutional Influences (pp. 229-245). I.B. Tauris. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism