Boris Johnson has been doing his best to persuade the next generation against becoming journalists, saying the role involves ‘always abusing people.’
The Prime Minister laid into his former profession while dishing out careers advice at a school in London earlier.
He suggested reporters should put themselves in other people’s shoes instead of constantly criticising the actions of those in power.
Some said the comments were reminiscent of Donald Trump’s slurs about the ‘fake news media’ but Downing Street spokespeople moved to clarify that the PM believes journalists help to ‘make Government better.’
Mr Johnson was notoriously sacked by The Times newspaper for allegedly fabricating a quote in a front page news story during his own career as a journalist.
He went on to become the editor of the influential conservative magazine The Spectator, and covered the European Union as the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent before becoming a politician.
He told a classroom that a ‘lightbulb went off’ in his mind when he realised he would rather make the decisions instead of just being critical.
‘I was like a journalist for a long time. I still am really, I still write stuff,’ he said during a discussion at Sedgehill Academy in Lewisham, south London, on Tuesday.
‘But when you’re a journalist, it’s a great, great job, it’s a great profession, but the trouble is that you sometimes find yourself always abusing people or attacking people.
‘Not that you want to abuse them or attack them, but being critical when maybe you feel sometimes a bit guilty about that because you haven’t put yourself in the place of the person you’re criticising. So I thought I’d give it a go.’
Mr Johnson’s career as a journalist was controversial and has dogged his time as PM. He wrote columns in which he compared Muslim women in burqas to ‘letter boxes’ and called gay people ‘bum boys.’
He has recently faced several bruising encounters with reporters at his Covid-19 press conferences, including the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg who was overheard saying he ‘hadn’t answered the question’ while her mic was still on.
His former aide Dominic Cummings was known to be disdainful of the press and, under his watch, ministers boycotted several major media outlets including BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme.
Conservative MP Kemi Badenoch was criticised recently for publicly attacking a journalist on Twitter who had been asking questions about her work as an equalities minister.
Labour’s Chris Matheson said Mr Johnson’s comments ‘probably says more about his own career’ as a journalist.
He added: ‘It is particularly troubling coming so soon after the Prime Minister stood by one of his ministers who attacked a journalist who was just trying to do her job.
‘We know from Donald Trump that these kind of assaults on the free press are dangerous and designed to stir up distrust and division. Boris Johnson should withdraw these remarks and apologise.’
The general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Michelle Stanistreet, also criticised the comments, saying they were particularly hard to hear at a time when reporters have been working flat-out to provide people with information during the pandemic.
‘Great to know we can trust in the Prime Minister to inspire the next generation of journalists’, Ms Stanistreet said.
‘He may have penned columns for a living but this banal disparaging of journalists as unfeeling bullies reveals a Prime Minister with complete disdain for journalism and press freedom.
‘It also demonstrates the PM’s lack of respect for the vital role journalists have played in keeping the public informed during a global pandemic, and his own crass lack of empathy for the worsening harassment, abuse and intimidation being meted out to journalists right now, simply for doing their job.’
The Prime Minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton – also a former journalist – insisted Mr Johnson was commenting on the media’s role in holding the Government to account.
She told reporters: ‘That is the Prime Minister talking about the fact that you, all of you – and indeed James Slack (the No 10 director of communications) and myself once upon a time – as journalists your job is to constantly challenge and that’s something that makes all of us in Government better.’
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