DENNIS Skinner has been applauded for ‘schooling a journalist’ at the recent Labour party conference.

A viral clip shows the veteran politician turning the tables on a Huffington Post reporter who questions him on the party’s ambitious spending plans, sparking a diatribe that has resonated widely.

“Do you think it was wrong for Nye Bevan to build the health service? To save your life or your relatives’ lives?” Dennis Skinner responds, before quizzing the bemused reporter about the post-war building of council estates.

The journalist says he is there to ask questions, prompting the MP to say: “Why don’t you understand that you are part of society? It’s time you understood that you’re not somebody outside the perimeter. You’re involved but somehow, you people connected to the television and media think you’re above it all – you’re not.”

The exchange perfectly captured – and arguably exploited – an anti-press sentiment that is rapidly gaining ground, the comments reflecting a ‘never trust a journalist’ rhetoric that has been around as long as newspapers. To pretend there are not deep problems within parts of the UK’s media culture would be disingenuous but those who celebrate the ‘Beast of Bolsover’s’ ‘schooling’ of the journalist should consider carefully their expectations of news reporters.

Because – whilst painfully aware of the navel-gazing quandary of a reporter writing about journalism – the contradictions inherent in the dominant discourse are glaring.

Reporters are criticised over perceived bias as viciously as they are for attempts at objectivity, at the same time accused of partisan reporting and appearing ‘uninvolved’.

It is nonsense to sweepingly suggest that reporters consider themselves removed from society and its ills. Their opinions are simply professionally irrelevant and, ideally, should be put aside every working day in an effort to achieve accuracy and balance.

The reporters at the conference were there to ask questions on behalf of those who rarely, if ever, get the opportunity to quiz their elected officials. In that context, who really cares what their opinion is, if they are doing their job professionally?

The premise of the MP’s viral confrontation fails to acknowledge that one of the most traditional facets of journalism is the questioning of authority. Dennis Skinner did not ‘school’ a journalist. He attempted to belittle, insult and discredit a profession. In doing so, he joins the ranks of a growing number of politicians riding the waves of an anti-press sentiment that, if taken to its inevitable conclusion, will serve those who sit in Westminster extremely well.

Some will say traditional journalists are no longer needed, that technology gives power to the people, rendering reporters redundant. They should be careful what they wish for. Change is important and inevitable, but traditional journalism rooted in an ethos of law, ethics and neutrality still plays a vital role in demanding answers from those in power. Reporters do not always get it right but when the doors to Parliament, to the courts, to the council meetings close to the trained scrutiny of the press – flawed as some elements of it may still be – they will not re-open to admit its successors.