16/07/2018 17:46 BST

Alex Salmond's Show On Kremlin-Backed RT Breached Broadcasting Rules

Ofcom said parts of the programme were misleading.

PA Archive/PA Images
Alex Salmond at the launch of his TV chat show on RT

The Alex Salmond Show on a Kremlin-backed TV channel breached broadcasting rules by presenting messages from production staff as having come from viewers.

Watchdog Ofcom investigated “audience tweets” in the former Scottish first minister’s debut show on RT, formerly Russia Today.

It found the tweets were presented as having come from viewers, but most were in fact from production staff linked to the programme - including a freelance make-up artist.

Four of the six tweets or emails featured in the November episode were sent by people connected either directly or indirectly to the production of the show or to Salmond in some way, Ofcom said on Monday. 

They included the question “Why RT?”,  tweeted by “a freelance make-up girl who had been involved in rehearsals for the show” and “What does Slainte [the name of Salmond’s production company] mean?”, which came from a “freelance cameraman and an acquaintance of one of the producers’ technicians”.

Other questions included “When are you getting President Trump on the show?” and “If you were Prime Minister would you stop Brexit?”

An Ofcom spokeswoman said the show broke broadcasting rules by “misleading its audience”.

This is the first ruling to be made into 11 investigations that were launched by Ofcom into RT.

The regulator is also investigating “the due impartiality of news and current affairs programmes on the RT news channel”.

It said that since the Salisbury poisoning attack in March, in which former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were targeted with a Novichok nerve agent, it has “observed a significant increase in the number of programmes” on the channel that should be investigated.

Ofcom has launched 11 investigations into RT which it was becoming increasingly concerned about in the wake of the Sailsbury poisonings in March

MPs have also voiced concerns about the Russian news channel in the House of Commons, while Prime Minister Theresa May has faced repeated calls for the government to take action against those who run it. 

Slainte Media, which makes The Alex Salmond Show, attempted to defend its actions, saying that due to to the programme in question being the maiden episode “there were obviously no existing viewers or live tweets to draw on in order to illustrate the audience participation section”.

A spokesman for the company added: “Ofcom suggests that in these circumstances the inclusion of three questions from people with even remote connections to the show is enough for an ‘in breach’ finding; not because their questions were included but because it was not specifically mentioned that they were from a freelance hairdresser, a friend of a cameraman and someone who knew Mr Salmond.”

The spokesman went on to label the questions “light-hearted” and said the programme had “clearly pursued no particular agenda nor could possibly have caused any offence”.

“In other words this ruling, even one with no proposed sanction, is out of all proportion to this very minor matter,” they added. 

RT criticised the decision into what it said was a “trivial teething problem”, claiming the regulator’s handling of its case was a “notable and worrying example of Ofcom’s orchestration of the media in this matter by publicising, without notice to RT, its provisional findings”.

RT said Ofcom had acted before it had heard, “let alone had time to consider RT’s representations on its Preliminary View”.

“This gives rise to grave concern over the fairness of Ofcom’s process and agenda,” the broadcaster said. 

“The concern is heightened as Ofcom is using powers that exist for protection against serious matters to find in breach this trivial teething problem – a real sledgehammer to crack a nut.”