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Alex Salmond's TV offer to tycoon Rupert Murdoch

ALEX Salmond offered to shower Rupert Murdoch with lavish hospitality, including theatre seats in New York and Ryder Cup tickets, in an extraordinary attempt to "cosy up" to the media mogul.

The First Minister exchanged gifts with the News International owner and requested meetings with him away from Scotland, as part of a concerted effort to court the billionaire's media empire, which threw its Scottish tabloid newspapers behind Mr Salmond's re-election campaign this year.

Mr Salmond even offered to hand "exclusive" rights to Mr Murdoch's Sky TV for coverage of the Gathering Scottish Homecoming event, which was partly funded by the taxpayer, suggesting there would be "commercial benefits" for News International.

A raft of documents published by the government yesterday revealed the close relationship between Mr Salmond and Mr Murdoch over the past four years, which included a meeting in June requested by the First Minister in London at News International headquarters.

The papers show he has met Mr Murdoch three times during his four years as First Minister, as well as holding talks with the media baron's son James and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks - figures caught up in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Mr Salmond was also a guest at a Sun newspaper staff curry night in Glasgow in June.

The revelations came despite an attack by Mr Salmond just days ago on the UK's main party leaders for attending a News International garden party in June, when he said they had been "downing champagne and oysters" with Mrs Brooks, who was forced to resign over the phone hacking scandal.

SNP leader Mr Salmond also sent Mr Murdoch a DVD promoting Scotland as a premier golf venue, which the First Minister, in a letter dated October 2008, said included an "excellent voiceover" from celebrity SNP backer Sir Sean Connery.

• Invitations, supplications and machinations - how Salmond's flattery spectacularly failed to woo Murdoch

Another gift Mr Salmond offered Mr Murdoch was an invitation to attend the 2008 Ryder Cup in Kentucky and be "part of the official Scotland delegation".

The First Minister, who has been heavily criticised for not releasing details of his News International links earlier, was also offered opera tickets by the former Scottish Sun editor David Dinsmore, who later wrote to the SNP leader congratulating him on an "astonishing victory" this May.The communications published yesterday showed the SNP leader has heaped praise on Mr Murdoch, whom he wrongly addressed as "Sir Rupert" in one letter dated September 2008.

Mr Salmond also told Mr Murdoch in October 2007 he wanted to see News International go from "strength to strength" as he offered tickets at the taxpayer's expense to the billionaire for the award-winning production Black Watch in New York.

However, Mr Murdoch only replied once to the letters and never accepted the hospitality.

The SNP leader was yesterday accused of "blatant sycophantic" behaviour over the correspondence, which revealed that he had accepted a book Mr Murdoch had sent to him by US senator Jim Webb called Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.

However, the heaviest criticism levelled at Mr Salmond was over his offer of a "great programming opportunity" for News International-owned Sky TV to cover exclusively the Gathering event in Edinburgh, which was made to Mr Murdoch in a letter dated February 2009.

Mr Salmond said he wanted Mr Murdoch to be the "guest of honour" at the Gathering in July 2009, which saw the private company running the event go bust with debts of 516,000.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond yesterday said handing exclusive TV rights to Sky would not have been illegal as the event was run by a private company, despite a taxpayer-funded loan of 180,000 paid to the organisers.

The spokesman also confirmed Mr Salmond had never accepted the tickets offered to him by News International for the Scottish Opera production of La Boheme in February 2010 at Glasgow's Theatre Royal.

He said the Ryder Cup offer to Mr Murdoch, would not have been funded by the taxpayer, as the Scottish Government had received complimentary tickets as a future host of the event.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said the gifts and benefits offered to Mr Murdoch were "unusual and highly questionable behaviour by Scotland's First Minister". Mr Gray also accused the SNP leader of having "gone out of his way to meet News International executives not based in Scotland", including a taxpayer-funded trip to New York in October 2007 when Mr Salmond held talks with Mr Murdoch.

The First Minister was in the city on a trade mission aimed at boosting investment opportunities for Scottish firms. Mr Salmond also met James Murdoch, News International's chairman in Europe, for lunch and talks in London in January.A letter Mr Salmond sent to James Murdoch that month described the meeting as "most enjoyable" and said that a "conversation on business opportunities for BSkyB" in Scotland had been "most useful". Mr Salmond said he wanted the company to "expand its operations" in Livingston and Dunfermline, where BSkyB has offices.

Other meetings Mr Salmond held with senior figures from News International included talks in London with then Sun editor Ms Brooks in July 2008.

The meeting took place as part of a political charm offensive by the SNP government before Mrs Brooks took over as chief executive of News International the following year.

The papers also showed a meeting with the Scottish editor of the News of the World, Bob Bird at the First Minister's official residence, Bute House, in March 2009 to discuss Mark's Law - an attempt to strengthen child protection.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "These letters show that the SNP have been extremely willing to cosy up to executives at News International.

"The blatant sycophantic behaviour laid out for all to see should make the First Minister squirm."

But Mr Salmond yesterday defended his meetings with News International executives, which he said had been about trying to attract increased investment in Scotland from the company.

A spokesman for the First Minister said: "Labour's hypocritical attacks have come totally unstuck.

"As the correspondence shows, our engagement with News International executives has been focused on boosting jobs, investment and economic activity in Scotland - exactly the same approach as we take towards all employers - quite a contrast with the hypocrisy of Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems.

"Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have all met Rebekah Brooks more often in one year - including at the oyster and champagne garden parties - than Alex Salmond has in four years."

 
 
 

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