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16 July 2018, 18:34
The Alex Salmond Show on a Kremlin-backed TV channel has been found to have breached broadcasting rules for presenting messages as having come from viewers when they were in fact from production staff.
Regulator Ofcom investigated "audience tweets" in the former Scottish first minister's debut show on RT, formerly Russia Today.
It found that the tweets were presented as having come from viewers but most of them were from production staff linked to the programme.
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 Alex Salmond Show or to Salmond in some way, Ofcom said.
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 mean?" (the name of Salmond's production company), which came from a "freelance cameraman and an acquaintance of one of the producers' technicians".
Other questions were "When are you getting President Trump on the show?" and "If you were Prime Minister would you stop Brexit?"
An Ofcom spokeswoman said: "We found this programme broke our rules by misleading its audience.
"A series of messages were presented on-air as having come from viewers. In fact, most of them were from production staff linked to the programme."
This is the first decision 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 has said that since the Salisbury poisoning case, it has "observed a significant increase in the number of programmes" on the channel that should be investigated.
MPs have also voiced concern in the House of Commons about the Russian news channel while Prime Minister Theresa May has faced repeated calls for the Government to take action against RT in the Commons.
A spokesman for Slainte Media, which makes The Alex Salmond Show, said: "For the very first programme of a recorded series there were obviously no existing viewers or live tweets to draw on in order to illustrate the audience participation section.
"Thus we used comment from a variety of sources for the six questions.
"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!
"This ruling is despite the fact that the content of the questions were basically light-hearted (eg the English meaning of the Scots Gaelic word Slainte) and 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.
"It is worth noting that since this very first Alex Salmond Show was broadcast, last November, and the audience established, we have produced no less than 34 shows featuring this particular section on viewers' questions with no difficulty or complaint whatsoever."
RT commented: "This 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 for its decision in this case in a statement made on April 18th.
"This was 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 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."