BBC executive Alan Yentob said on Thursday he was sorry if he intimidated journalists covering the collapse of a charity he helped to run, following accusations that his joint role was a conflict of interest.
The BBC's creative director – who earns over £300,000 a year as one of the corporation's most important officials – also served as chairman of Kids Company, the high-profile children's charity which closed in August.
Yentob admitted to parliament's public accounts select committee that he may have inadvertently intervened by choosing to stand next to the producers of BBC Radio 4's Today programme while watching Camila Batmanghelidjh, the charity's chief executive, being interviewed on the flagship news show.
"The allegation is that ... you were on the other side of the glass with the producer," committee chairman Bernard Jenkin MP said.
"Yes I was, yes," Yentob confirmed.
Jenkin suggested that having "such a senior and interested figure from the BBC" standing beside the Today producer would inevitably lead to the journalist fearing that any comment on the story would "be heard by a very senior figure who has a conflict of interest in this matter".
Yentob, who spent parts of the hearing with his head in his hands, insisted that there was no conflict of interest since he had no power over BBC News as his role did not include any oversight of news material – a point he felt was proved by the corporation's negative coverage of the charity.
"Camila was behind the glass in another room, I was on the other side of the glass. I just thought that I was there to hear what Camila said and this is an organisation that I'm familiar with," he insisted.
"If it was intimidating I regret it."
People who have worked on the programme told BuzzFeed News that having Yentob in the producer's gallery would be highly unusual, in part because a green room for guests and their associates is provided with full view of the Today studio.
The BBC said it was confident that Yentob did not intimidate the Today programme staff by making the unusual decision to stand with the show's producers: "We are satisfied that our reporting has been robust in all respects and, of course, there was only ever an interview request in the first place because we were pursuing the story."
Yentob also confirmed that he called journalists working on the BBC's Newsnight ahead of the episode featuring a story on Kids Company as part of the show's joint investigation into the charity with BuzzFeed News.
But he insisted he was not attempting to influence the programme's coverage, only to find out whether the story was expected to go out on air that evening.
It is understood that Yentob made four separate calls to the programme over the first two days of the story, including communication with the show's editor, Ian Katz, and policy editor, Chris Cook, who worked with BuzzFeed News on its investigation into the troubled charity. It is not known what was said on those calls.
At one point during the hearing Yentob was forced to defend the decision to make an episode of the BBC's flagship arts programme Imagine – presented by himself – about the London-based charity that he helped to run. He insisted that the decision didn't matter because it was only one programme of many.
He later pointed out he had put decades of work and hundreds of thousands of pounds of his own money into Kids Company.
"My concerns are all to do with the same ones as you, which is the future of these children," Yentob told the committee. "The issue of the BBC and my life at the BBC is entirely separate to this."
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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