Salmond mostly escapes criticism from Leveson, for BSkyB bid support

THE role of the First Minister, Alex Salmond, in what became an abandoned attempt by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to take a controlling stake in satellite broadcaster, BSkyB, has mostly escaped criticism by Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into Press standards.

But Leveson does describe (on page 1412 of the report) Salmond’s “readiness…to stand ready to assist News Corp is striking”.

Murdoch’s bid was to be eventually dropped – in the wake of the phone-hacking allegations that prompted the inquiry and had Murdoch closing his News of the World newspaper – but not before Salmond had seemingly lent his support; he insists on jobs grounds in Scotland.

Says Leveson, whose report was published today: “The evidence does not go so far as to show either an express or an implied deal between Mr Salmond and [Rupert’s son] James Murdoch, trading newspaper support [in the run-up to last year’s Scottish Parliament elections] for assistance with the bid.”

And Leveson goes on: “What it did reveal was the way in which Mr Salmond was expressly seeking the support of The Sun in the same conversation as he was repeating an offer to assist with the bid. That occurred in the context of a relationship between Mr Salmond and News Corp which had been warming since 2007 and was continuing to do so. Mr Salmond’s readiness, when the subject was first raised in November 2010 and thereafter, to stand ready to assist News Corp is striking.

“I have absolutely no doubt that Mr Salmond was motivated by an anxiety to help Scottish employment and to benefit Scotland generally: that is entirely laudable and exactly what is the expectation and proper function of the First Minister. How far that should be taken, however, is another matter. He appreciated that employment whether in Scotland or elsewhere was not a relevant consideration for the Minister [adjudicating on whether the bid should be allowed to proceed] and, in fact, he never contacted either [Business Secretary] Dr Cable or [then Culture Secretary] Mr Hunt to argue the contrary. Judged by what he did, as opposed to what he said he was prepared to do, therefore, he cannot be criticised.”

Earlier today, at lunchtime, Salmond invited the leaders of the main political parties to join him to formulate a Scots response to Leveson’s recommendations. Press regulation is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, meaning no guarantee of Leveson’s proposals applying in Scotland.

The Daily Telegraph’s Simon Johnston quotes Salmond saying of the report that was issued after he issued his invitation:  “I am supportive of the conclusions of Lord Leveson, who has set out clearly the difference between statutory regulation of the Press on the one hand and the argument for statutory underpinning of self-regulation on the other.

“That puts us very much in the territory of the Press Council of Ireland which I think might well provide a good template for the way forward. Clearly, we will have to be satisfied that this can be done within the necessary context of a free Press.”

But in a Scottish Conservatives media statement issued this evening, leader, Ruth Davidson, is quoted, as saying: “The Leveson Report contains some marked criticisms of the First Minister and his conduct surrounding the BSkyB bid and his attempt to curry favour with The Sun newspaper.

“He clearly still has questions to answer.

“In light of these remarks, I think it would be wise for the First Minister to take a step back from the process he announced today and allow another minister to represent the Scottish Government in the proposed cross-party talks.”

Pic: Rob McDougall.