By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter, in the House of Lords
"Who elected you?"
Mr Humphrys says the BBC has learned from Hutton
Under normal circumstances, John Humphrys might have been tempted to bounce the question straight back at Lord Maxton, sparking off a typically testy Today programme exchange.
But on Wednesday morning it was the journalists who were answering the questions, as Mr Humphrys, his Today programme editor Kevin Marsh, current ITN (soon to be BBC) political editor Nick Robinson and Sky's Adam Boulton gave evidence to a Lords select committee.
The committee was examining the renewal of the BBC's Charter following the publication in March of a Green Paper on the corporation's future.
But for many of the journalists crowded into committee room three in the House of Lords, the real interest was in seeing how these giants of the trade would react to getting a small taste of their own medicine.
It turned out to be a relatively good humoured session, with chairman Lord Fowler, a former journalist himself, cueing up the contributors like a producer in a television gallery. "And now Adam Boulton!"
Only Labour peer Lord Maxton felt the need to go on the attack, taking Mr Humphrys to task, in a good humoured way, for interrupting his guests and expressing opinions.
Lord Maxton: "You say your job is to hold to account the elected representative of this country...who elected you?"
Humphrys: "Nobody elected me."
Maxton: "So why do you think you have got that job?"
Humphrys: "I have the job because I have been appointed by the BBC to do it, in the most simplistic sense...it is my job on behalf of my listeners, and that is the most important bit of the sentence, if I can finish that point, it is my job..."
Maxton: "Oh I see, I am allowed to let you finish, but you don't let anybody else finish."
Mr Humphrys said it was his job to ask questions on behalf of the listeners, who did not have the sort of access that he and other broadcasters enjoyed.
Mr Robinson did not need a 'brain transplant' to rejoin the BBC
"I would be failing in my responsibility if I didn't ask the questions that they wanted asked," he said.
Maxton: "So why don't you let them make the arguments? In other words, why do you constantly interrupt them? To try and make them answer a different point to the one you originally asked, or to make a point yourself about it. You often, to be quite honest, express opinions about what they are saying. That's not your job, surely."
Humphrys: "Well, I reject your assertion entirely. I do let them make the point."
Maxton: "I heard you this morning do it."
Humphrys: "Did you? Did you? The example?"
Maxton: "Yes, when you were doing the interview with the junior minister about music licences for pubs. He was about 10 seconds into an answer. You interrupted him with another question."
Humphrys: "Really? Hmmm."
Mr Boulton came to the BBC man's rescue, saying most ministers were determined not to answer the question, and it was the journalist's job to "examine the line to take and get round it".
But the Sky correspondent did not hold back from his criticisms of the BBC later in the session, saying it "beggar's belief" that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport should support a continued system of self-regulation for the corporation.
BBC is not the 'gold standard', argued Mr Boulton
He warned that unless an external regulator was appointed, the corporation risked a repeat of the mistakes which led to the Hutton Inquiry.
"It comes down to the question of accountability and whether an institution in the privileged position of being given a large amount of taxpayers' money should then effectively be entitled to rule entirely on its own regulatory decisions.
"The BBC does not exist in isolation. The BBC exists in a pluralistic broadcasting culture and the question has to be why should the BBC be given exceptional privileges?"
'Eye of the storm'
Kevin Marsh said he did not think very much would have changed if an external complaints procedure had been in place at the time of the events investigated by Lord Hutton.
He seemed less certain when asked if he felt the current system offered him enough protection, when he was "in the eye of the storm".
"I suppose, at the shop floor, people were grateful that the governors made the kind of independent, in inverted commas, stand they made at that July meeting.
"What I couldn't give you a definitive answer on is whether I felt that meant we were more or less protected," he told the committee.
Mr Humphrys said that while an external regulator would give the appearance of transparency in the BBC's complaints procedure, it would make little difference in practice.
"Some mistakes were made during the Hutton episode. I doubt that is going to happen again. We have learned," he added.
'Mission to explain'
But Mr Boulton was not finished. He said although other broadcasters had benefited in the past from the BBC's public service tradition, many of the recent innovations in broadcasting had been driven by the independent sector.
For example, he said, breakfast television was first launched on ITV with "a mission to explain", while the BBC's response had been "to put Selina Scott on a sofa in a tight sweater".
Nick Robinson found himself caught in the middle of the debate.
He agreed with Mr Boulton that the BBC does not represent a unique "gold standard" in British broadcasting, although he said the corporation had broken new ground in radio and in its use of the internet.
People working for ITN or Sky were essentially the same as BBC people, he argued, which is why they "didn't require brain transplants" to move between the organisations.
But the difference, with the BBC, he said, was the opportunities afforded by its "huge" audience reach, and the "huge responsibilities" that came with public funding.
Mr Humphrys said the BBC did have a particular responsibility to do things that would not necessarily attract large audiences simply "because it is right".
"The BBC has to be a civilising influence. We have to be different from the others," he added.