A defiant Alex Salmond has declared he can “say what I like” on Russia Today (RT), claiming any move to shut down his television show would make a “mockery of freedom of speech”.
The former Scottish First Minister said no guests invited on his show aired on the Kremlin-backed broadcaster had been “silenced”.
He also denied operating to any brief or directive from the Kremlin.
The determined stance was issued with The Alex Salmond Show under investigation by UK broadcaster Ofcom.
Ofcom had warned on Tuesday RT could lose its right to broadcast in Britain if it failed a so-called “fit and proper” test.
Russia’s foreign ministry has warned British media will be expelled if the UK shuts down RT.
Speaking at the end of this morning’s episode, Mr Salmond stressed his show was “independently produced” amid calls for the programme to be banned from British airwaves.
“I host this independently produced television show, which is broadcast on RT International,” he said.
“Within the broadcasting laws that normally pertain to this country, I can say what I like about any issue and so can any one of my interviewed guests.
“We have included current heads of state and government, past Prime Ministers and presidents, MPs from different parties, baronesses, lords and knights of the realm.
“Not a single one of them has complained about being silenced because not a single one of them has been.
“I hold no brief from the Kremlin, nor am I required to have.
“No-one has tried to influence the content of this show in any way, shape or form whatsoever.
“By definition RT has not been a propaganda station because it is regulated under a UK licence by Ofcom.
“Yes, it’s had breaches of the Ofcom code, but so have Sky, ITV and BBC. For some however, independent regulation is not enough.
“Newspapers who objected to even the mildest of statutory regulation of their own industry now think that independent regulation is somehow inadequate for broadcasting and should be replaced by effective state censorship.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she had previously made clear her dislike of RT – and then questioned if her Tory rival had spoken out against Russian donations to UK political parties.
But she also stressed the “bigger issues” raised by the Salisbury attack, describing it as a “gravely serious incident”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “What happened in Salisbury is a matter of very serious national security. It has very grave implications.
“These are the issues I think we should be focused on. That is why I gave support to the Prime Minister for the initial actions she has taken.”
Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell called for Mr Salmond to “reconsider his position” over his programme’s connections to RT.
“I think Mr Salmond really ought to reconsider his position,” he said.
“I just think whatever the rights or wrongs are, the fact that he’s associated with a broacasting outlet, which is very largely believed to be under the control of the Russian Government at this particular moment, may be thought to be by many people, to put it mildly, unfortunate.”
Mr Salmond’s comments come with British Prime Minister Theresa May announcing yesterday that 23 UK diplomats were being expelled from the UK as part of the Government’s “full and robust response” to the “barbaric” poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The former First Minister added: “Don’t shut down TV stations because you’re standpoint is so uncertain that you must exclude other perspectives.
“Between Monday and yesterday, the Prime Minister sensibly drew back from that proposal, but nor should this be attempted by pressure on an independent regulator.
“To censure would make a travesty of the concept of nations speaking unto nations, a mockery of freedom of speech and it would portray an image of a country lost in self doubt.
“It would also strike a fatal barrier.
“Liberal democracies don’t succeed in international confrontations by sacrificing their dearest held values of freedom of speech. Until next week – I hope – goodbye for now.”
Mrs May said Russia was guilty of “an unlawful use of force” against the UK and it was time to “send a clear message” to Vladimir Putin.
But Mr Salmond issued a warning to the UK Government, hinting Mrs May had gone a step too far in blaming the Russian state for the Salisbury poisoning attack without “conclusive” evidence.
“The chemical poisoning in Salisbury was a heinous crime and should be universally condemned,” Mr Salmond said.
“The best way to deal with crime is to take the suspects when identified thought the courts, domestic and international.
“The UK government is totally convinced that the Russian state is involved and are therefore entitled to take a range of additional measures, diplomatic and economic.
“Of course, it’s much more effective to operate in concert with friends and allies.
“To succeed the evidence has to be overwhelming and the case cast iron as the leader of the Opposition correctly pointed out to the Prime Minister.
“He didn’t get much support for making that point in the House of Commons, but that does not make him wrong.
“Pursuing the case internationally is essential and you’re unlikely to succeed at the organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons or at the United Nations without the production of such conclusive evidence.
“When the UK Government produces their evidence then the Russian Government will have no alternative but to answer.”