This article examines the intellectual history of the concept of 'publicity', originally defined by Immanuel Kant as the transcendental formula of public justice and the principle of the public use of reason, but later largely subsumed under the concept of 'freedom of the press'. The notion of the press as the Fourth Estate/Power was a valid concept and legitimate form of the institutionalization of the principle of publicity in the period when newspapers emanated from a new (bourgeois) estate or class: they had a different source of legitimacy than the three classic powers, and developed as a critical impulse against the old ruling estates. Yet the discrimination in favor of the power/control function of the press, which relates to the need of 'distrustful surveillance' defended by Bentham, clearly abstracted freedom of the press from the Kantian quest for the public use of reason. In democratic societies where the people rather than different estates legitimize all the powers, the control dimension of publicity embodied in the corporate freedom of the press should be effectively supplemented by actions toward equalizing private citizens in the public use of reason.
Media Culture Society, January 2002, Vol. 24 no. 1 5-26