ONE of the UK's top television executives has launched a tirade against Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn for dodging scrutiny, branding them cowards. 

Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, also hit out at "sexist b*****ds" in her industry and said she was sexually assaulted as a young journalist. 

She made the comments as she delivered the keynote address at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, known as the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture. 

Ms Byrne, who was born in Paisley, said there has been a "dramatic fall in politicians holding themselves up to proper scrutiny on TV and in recent months and even weeks, that decline has, in my view, become critical for our democracy".

Delivering the punchy speech at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, she compared Mr Johnson to Vladimir Putin over his eagerness to address the nation directly via social media.

She said: "We have a new Prime Minister who hasn’t held one major press conference or given one major television interview since he came to power.

"That cannot be right. And we have a leader of the opposition who similarly fails to give significant interviews on terrestrial TV."

Ms Byrne – who is one of the longest-serving heads of commissioning in the industry – said Mr Johnson was "virtually invisible on television" during the recent Tory leadership election, and accused him of lying about the EU.

She said: "Boris Johnson has been proclaimed by Downing Street as the first social media PM.

"On taking office, he recorded a jolly statement – so much more fun than being grilled by [journalists] Emily Maitlis or Jon Snow. It reminded me of something and at first I couldn’t think what it was.

"And then it came to me. This great flag-bearer for democracy Vladimir Putin who also likes to talk directly to the nation."

Ms Byrne, a fellow of the Royal Television Society (RTS), dismissed Mr Johnson's recent Facebook Q&A session as a "propaganda exercise". 

She said: "What would Margaret Thatcher have thought of these two mighty leaders who avoid the regular grillings she accepted?

"I would never have thought I would say these words: I believe that Mrs Thatcher would agree with me; Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are cowards. She had a word for men like them – ‘frit’."

The TV heavyweight said US President Donald Trump had "abandoned any belief in the primacy of truth", and "lies as a matter of course now".

And she insisted Boris Johnson had lied about the EU "going back decades". 

She added: "Here is what we all need to decide: what do we do when a known liar becomes our Prime Minister?"

She continued: "Is it time for us to start using the L word? I believe that we need to start calling politicians out as liars when they lie. 

"If we continue to be so polite, how will our viewers know that politicians ARE lying?"

In a rallying call for the industry, Ms Byrne said: "It’s time for the television industry to stand up for itself and speak out publicly against what is happening. 

"Yes, we are rivals but we have to form a united front in opposing attempts to sideline our central role in the political life of this country."

The executive also took aim at previous speakers to deliver the MacTaggart, which has a history stretching back 40 years.

She said: "Elsewhere on the list, I spotted one name among my predecessors who has not yet had the comeuppance he deserves for his assaults on women.

"That’s one of the things about being an old lady, you gather a lot of information over the years. 

"To men who have behaved badly in the past, I say this: you know who you are. And so do I.

"Tonight, there’ll be no shortage of sexist b*****ds, possibly among you in the audience."

Ms Byrne, who received the outstanding contribution award at the RTS Journalism Awards last year, said she is "just about the oldest female TV executive working for a broadcaster". 

She later joked: "I started out in television at Granada and from my very first day the overwhelmingly male management made me feel at home. Or to be more accurate, they tried to come home with me."

She added: "That first day at Granada, a female boss had also told me that a director would take me out to teach me the basics of filming and he would sexually assault me, but I wasn’t to take it personally because he sexually assaulted all women he worked with.

"Sure enough he did assault me – one of the few examples in my career of the promise of a TV boss coming true. 

"His assault was a criminal offence but who could I complain to? I learned early on that as a woman I was on my own."

However, Ms Byrne also paid tribute to the "immense" achievements of the older generation of TV journalists.