The separation of powers is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in Ancient Greece and Rome. Under this model, the state is divided into branches, each with separate and independent powers and areas of responsibility so that the powers of one branch are not in conflict with the powers associated with the other branches. The normal division of branches is into a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary.
Aristotle first mentioned the idea of a “mixed government” or hybrid government in his work Politics where he drew upon many of the constitutional forms in the city-states of Ancient Greece. In the Roman Republic, the Roman Senate, Consuls and the Assemblies showed an example of a Mixed government according to Polybius.
The term tripartite system is ascribed to French Enlightenment political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu. Montesquieu described the separation of political power among a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary. Montesquieu’s approach was to present and defend a form of government which was not excessively centralized in all its powers to a single monarch or similar ruler. He based this model on the Constitution of the Roman Republic and the British constitutional system. Montesquieu took the view that the Roman Republic had powers separated so that no one could usurp complete power. In the British constitutional system, Montesquieu discerned a separation of powers among the monarch, Parliament, and the courts of law. Montesquieu did actually specify that “the independence of the judiciary has to be real, and not apparent merely”. “The judiciary was generally seen as the most important of powers, independent and unchecked”, and also was considered dangerous. Political media are communication vehicles owned, ruled, managed, or otherwise influenced by political entities, meant to propagate views of the related entity. A similar term, normative media, emphasizes technical and social characteristics of the media itself in shaping decisions. Harold Innis and later Marshall McLuhan,both Canadian media theorists, were influential in developing this theory. While it is simple to recognize a political medium in an official newspaper, magazine, TV channel that directly declares to belong to a group, deep concerns might regard submission of communications to political interests and impartiality of media that do not declare their party alliances. This influence is not always conspicuous and causes people to accept ideas put forth by those who wish to control communication for the good of society, or causes those who support freedom of communication and minority empowerment to oppose them. Some believe that big societies actually need to canalize communication. In this sense political media would often be meant to form or at least influence public opinion, a least-common-denominator for all members of society. They are a one-way street and sometimes misused. The Greeks could learn from the Egypt of the Pharaos that some risks could be suffered when medium and executives occur in personal union, concentrating too much power in one hand. This, however, implies the acceptation of a concept of media as power, which is widely but not generally shared. Opponents do argue that the simple fact of producing a communication is not by itself leading to a direct result on the public opinion, unless this one is considered as a merely passive mass in front of an irresistible communication…
Modern Democratic theories and implementations, especially after Montesquieu’s theories, rely on the separation of powers: Executive (government and police), legislative (parliament) and judicial (court) branches of power are separated. Commonly in recent times, and especially in journalistic jargon, media are however defined as an alleged fourth power, and a difference from the others is often outlined in the fact that the power to (eventually) influence the public opinion using media is not much controlled, because media are so “ethereal”, and it would be hard to weight them. Others instead suggest that this would not be a difference, since the control over official powers is extremely hard to be verified in practice. Often it is not easy, indeed, to find out who really controls a medium and how much potential efficacy it effectively could have for such goals. It is then argued that when one of the three “canonic” Montesquieu’s powers gains an additional power on media, this would be extremely dangerous for the survival of democracy, and an eventual conflict of interests is contested.
Last but not least we have the fifth power which is a term, apparently created by Ignacio Ramonet, that intends a continuation of the series of three classic branches of Baron de Montesquieu’s separation of powers and the fourth power, the mass media. The term fifth power can be used to refer either to economic systems, the Internet or the Church.
If, by the fifth power, what is meant is the economic system, it refers to the power that government exerts in the economic sphere through public companies and the mechanism of economic intervention, which is fundamentally financial. Historically, the relationship between power and economy has been defined within a narrow scope, primarily as the mercantilism of the Modern Age. However, since the U.S. stock market crash of 1929, four contemporary positions have emerged:
Capitalism advocates a minimum or subsidiary state restricted to legislation which aids the effective function of the free market. This system, first proposed by Adam Smith, has gained ground in the spirit of globalization prevalent since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Socialism advocates common ownership and control of the means of production by the workers and of property in general and the construction of a planned economy.
Fascism advocates a central, authoritarian style of economic intervention which is commonly defined as corporativism.
Social democracy advocates government regulation of private enterprise and control over private competition, fair trade, progressive taxation, and public funding for government-subsidized programs. In this system, strategic sectors such as transportation, energy, and the military, can be controlled by the public sector.
A second candidate for the “Fifth Power” is the Internet, which represents a new sort of social mass medium which cannot be included within the narrower, one-way scope of the media of the fourth power. If considered as the fifth branch of power, it is the only one to be controlled by society itself without regulation by the state.
According to Ramonet, Internet users collaborate to form a powerful engine of debate and democratic action. With globalization, the 21st century has the potential to finally bring communication and information to all people. The Time’s “person of the year” 2006 (YOU in a mirror-PC screen) carries the same message.
The internet is both a mass and a personal medium, flexible and scalable. The internet enables a way of communication which was impossible to be foreseen in past societies.As McLuhan has written, “In this electric age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness (McLuhan, 86).” The software could potentially allow to cement structures which stand against democracy and competition of ideas, as well as structures which could gain a quite complete control over private communications and isolate eventual dissenting voices. Currently the Net is not completely identifiable as a political medium, given the lack of a central authority and a common political communication. Locally, governments could in the reality use censorship, the first experiments of which have been received with relatively little scandal.
Another strong candidate for the “Fifth Power” title is the church, because of the concept of separation of church and state. This concept has been adopted in a number of countries, to varying degrees depending on the applicable legal structures and prevalent views toward the proper role of religion in society. This concept of separating the power of the Church from the other three powers of the state is much older than the concepts of power of Economy or power of the Internet.