William Dutton, an academic and British Internet expert, has some interesting ideas about how a ‘fifth estate’ could support greater accountability in politics and the media. He gave a lecture to the Reuters Institute; the summary is on the Reuters site:
The media are often seen as central to democratic processes: a ‘fourth estate’ independent of government and other powerful institutions. Now, the Internet and Web are creating a new space for networking people, information and other resources. This network of networks has the potential to become an equally important ‘fifth estate’ which could support greater accountability in politics and the media. It could also have a much wider role in opening up to greater social accountability other institutional arenas, from everyday life to specialist fields like science.
This site includes links to the text and video of Dutton’s 50-minute lecture.