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Presenter denies Kids Company not given right of reply – after BBC’s Yentob admits Newsnight call

By William Turvill and Press Association

BBC executive Alan Yentob has admitted calling Newsnight shortly before it broadcast an investigation into the charity of which he is chairman.

Appearing on Channel 4 News, Yentob said he called the BBC Two current affairs programme because it had failed to give Kids Company, which collapsed this week, right of reply to the allegations against it.

But this claim was denied by Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis. She tweeted: "Newsnight was in contact with kids company right the way through, actually."

Yentob also confirmed on Channel 4 News that he had been present at the studios of Radio 4's Today programme when chief executive Camila Batmanghelidjh appeared the morning after the Newsnight broadcast.

And the Daily Mail – which quoted a source as saying that Yentob's call to Newsnight was "improper" – today reports that Yentob has launched a "verbal attack" on BBC reporter Lucy Manning over her investigation into Kids Company.

The Mail reports: "The tirade was heard by staff in the lobby of the BBC’s London HQ as he criticised the corporation’s coverage of Kids Company and its controversial founder Camila Batmanghelidjh."

The newspaper quoted Yentob as saying: "I have apologised. I didn’t have a go about her. I said to her, 'This is about the kids'." He is also quoted as saying it is "absolute nonsense" to suggest he had interfered inappropriately in the BBC's coverage.

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On Channel 4 News last night, Yentob denied a conflict of interest in his decision to call Newsnight about its investigation.

Yentob, the corporation's creative director, said he had not influenced the BBC's coverage of the charity's troubles.

He said he had not "abused my position at the BBC" and had not called for the story to be pulled, although he had suggested it could be postponed to give the organisation time to respond.

Asked on Channel 4 News whether he had spoken to Newsnight, Yentob said: "What I asked them is why no one had asked Kids Company whether or not they had any comments to make about this story."

He added: "I'm not remotely considering my position at the BBC – I don't think I have in any way abused my position at the BBC. I have not appeared on any BBC programmes, I'm appearing on Channel 4 now.

"The only contact that I had with the news operation was on that day, the first time I heard. If you are told that there are significant allegations against an organisation that you are the chairman of, and if the welfare of those children is at stake, the idea that you would not say 'excuse me, what's happening' and then say 'can you give us time to respond' and then the answer is 'no', they do the programme anyway – that's the last time I got in touch."

Yentob said he had not asked Newsnight to pull its story: "No, of course not. The only thing that I did say was 'why don't you do it on another…' They asked me 'why don't you come in' but I had no notice, it was 9.30 at night."

Yentob, who said he was upset at the collapse of Kids Company, told Channel 4 News it was obvious that he had not influenced the BBC's coverage of the charity.

Asked if there was a conflict of interest, he said: "No, I don't think there is because I am the creative director, I have no control over the BBC's news operation.

"It's quite evident I don't because the amount of coverage the BBC has given this is significant."

On his appearance at the Today programme studios, Yentob said: "No one can tell Camila what to say, by the way. I stood outside and listened to Camila doing what she did. I am in the BBC, I am not far from that office, so I went there.

"So there is no way in any way that I interfered with the coverage of that programme."

A BBC spokesperson said: “Alan is chair of Kids Company and can speak to media outlets about issues related to them.”

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