Alex Salmond has suffered a backlash over his “shameful” decision to host a new chat show on a Kremlin-backed broadcaster that has faced intense criticism for broadcasting pro-Putin propaganda.
RT, formerly known as Russia Today, last night unveiled the former First Minister as their new star turn at a lavish launch in London, followed by a cocktail reception.
The Alex Salmond Show is to air on a Thursday, starting next week, and will be a mixture of discussion about current affairs and “friendly exploration” into his guests’ personalities.
Mr Salmond has previously attracted criticism for appearing on the channel, which has been described as a key part of Russia’s state-funded disinformation campaign. He used the channel in 2015 to attack the BBC as a “mouthpiece of Tory propaganda.”
In 2014 Mr Salmond provoked controversy by saying he admired aspects of Vladimir Putin’s leadership and praised the way he had restored Russia’s national pride.
His announcement divided the Nationalists, with some parliamentarians shocked at his decision. Alyn Smith, an SNP MEP said: “What the **** is he thinking?”
It could also impact on his attempt to be installed as chairman of Johnston Press, which owns the Scotsman newspaper, as part of a boardroom coup.
Iain Dale, who is a stablemate of Mr Salmond on the LBC talk radio station, said: “I accepted an invite to the launch of Alex Salmond’s new TV show. Just found out it’s for RT. Be ashamed, Alex. Be very ashamed.”
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: “What an unedifying spectacle to see a former First Minister who fancies himself as the Michael Parkinson of Putin's propaganda channel.
"Nicola Sturgeon will have her head in her hands if this means another round of Alex Salmond interventions."
A Scottish Tory spokesman said: “Alex Salmond’s record in recent days has been to attack Scottish media outlets while cosying up to Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine. He is free to do as he pleases but he is hardly setting a good example.”
RT has receiving hundreds of millions of pounds funding from the budget of the Russian Federation but its executives say its journalists are independent.
Mr Salmond’s show will be produced by Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a close friend and former MP who also lost her seat in June’s snap election. She will also be a roving reporter.
His team touted the show idea around several channels, following his one-man Edinburgh fringe show, before signing the lucrative deal with RT.
It will be produced by Slainte Media, his own production company, and Mr Salmond insisted it would not be a vehicle for Russian propaganda because he will retain editorial control.
I try my best not to slag off @LBC colleagues but I’m going to make an exception. I accepted an invite to the launch of @AlexSalmond’s new TV show. Just found out it’s for RT. Be ashamed, Alex. Be very ashamed. #roubletastic#sellout
— Iain Dale (@IainDale) November 9, 2017
The show will be divided into two parts, one giving someone a platform to air their ideas followed by questions from the 62-year-old, while the second will be a more personal interview.
He said: “This programme will give people with something to say it, and we intend to find out something about the personalities behind the public figures.
“I’m not interested in catching people out on statistics or laying them low with past quotations.”
Impressed @AlexSalmond has full editorial control over his new #RussiaToday chat show. Think he should start with a bang and invite following line up for 1st episode:
1. The widow of Alexander Litvinenko
2. Pussy riot
3. Any. Russian. Gay. Rights. Activist.#thingsthatwonthappen
— Alex Cole-Hamilton (@agcolehamilton) November 10, 2017
But some Nationalists have avoided appearing on RT, with SNP MP Martin Docherty warning that it was an outlet for a regime which “most certainly would not tolerate a nationalist movement like our own within its own borders”.
The announcement of the new show came despite Mr Salmond being nominated to join the board of Johnston Press.
Christen Ager-Hanssen, whose Custos Group holds a 20 per cent stake in Johnston Press, has written to request a general meeting where shareholders will vote on the proposed removal of chairman Camilla Rhodes and non-executive director Michael Butterworth.
The Norwegian activist investor wants to replace them with Mr Salmond and Steve Auckland, who previously ran regional newspaper group Local World.
In an interview with the Telegraph last week, the former SNP leader described the Scotsman as “largely irrelevant” and pledged to make it more “pro-Scottish.”