Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on the government to review RT’s license to broadcast in the UK, and the long-awaited report from the Intelligence and Security Committee accused RT, formerly known as Russia Today, of putting out “serious distortions” along with fellow state-owned broadcaster Sputnik – which has its main UK newsroom in Edinburgh.
The former First Minister launched the Alex Salmond Show in 2017. Mr Salmond resigned as an SNP member in August 2018 following allegations of sexual misconduct, which he was cleared of in March after a criminal trial.
A spokesman for the Labour leader said: “We completely condemn [Mr Salmond’s RT programme] and we advise the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to do the same. She should make a public statement condemning it.”
During an Urgent Question debate in the Commons on the ISC report, former Scottish Secretary David Mundell claimed Mr Salmond was an “apparatchik” for Russia Today – a Russian term for a political appointee.
“What’s just as concerning is the unwillingness of so many nationalists to call out this behaviour despite saying they have concerns about Russia,” Mr Mundell said later.
“After the report was published we should have heard the First Minister speak out, so I now call on her… to condemn Alex Salmond’s ongoing relationship with the Russian state in the strongest possible terms.”
And Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said Mr Salmond “needs to accept that he has been promoting a TV channel that has a damaging agenda for western democracy”.
An SNP spokesperson dismissed the criticism of Ms Sturgeon, saying she had made her views clear on Mr Salmond’s involvement with RT “literally the day after” his programme was announced. The First Minister said in 2017 that “the choice of channel would not have been my choice”.
“This is little more than a smokescreen to try and conceal the devastating criticisms by the ISC report of the Tory government’s negligence in failing to even assess the level of Russian interference into the EU referendum,” the SNP spokesman said.
“If Labour and the Tories really want to move things forward perhaps they should be looking into unelected Labour and Tory Lords’ business links with Russia, which was one of the most serious conclusions from this report.”
Mr Salmond was approached for comment.
The Labour leader used yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions to distance himself from Jeremy Corbyn’s record on Russia, following criticism of his predecessor for not condemning Moscow’s involvement in the Salisbury chemical attack swiftly enough.
Mr Starmer has said “the Labour Party is under new management” after he was criticised by Boris Johnson for not resigning from the Labour front bench over the matter.
The Labour leader pressed for action against “Kremlin-backed disinformation” and suggested Mr Johnson should “look again” at licensing for RT.
The Prime Minister said Mr Starmer should have called out his predecessor “when he took money for appearing on Russia Today”, adding: “The Leader of the Opposition has more flip-flops than Bournemouth beach.”
Mr Starmer hit back: “Pre-prepared gags on flip-flops – this is the former columnist who wrote two versions of every article ever published.”