A Scottish National Party minister attempted to cut a whisky deal by arranging for the de facto ruler of a brutal African state to receive positive TV coverage in Scotland, according to the Sunday Express of UK.
The Sunday Express can reveal that Humza Yousaf “suggested having STV cover” Zambian Vice President Dr Guy Scott’s visit to a jam factory in Carluke, Lanarkshire, in July.
The offer was made while Mr Yousaf was attempting to convince Dr Scott to slash the cost of importing whisky into Zambia, which has an appalling record on human rights abuses.
Remarkably, a report on the controversial African politician’s “Scottish roots” appeared on the channel exactly one week later.
Last night, a senior Labour figure called for broadcasting watchdog Ofcom to investigate the Scottish Government’s relationship with the broadcaster.
With tensions high over the independence referendum, STV and the BBC have been accused of bias by both sides of the campaign.
However, our story raises the most serious questions yet about the extent of SNP influence in the Scottish media.
Last year, US Government inspectors found “serious” problems in Zambia including reports of unlawful killings, torture, and beatings; life-threatening prison conditions; and restrictions on freedom of speech.
Homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and Dr Scott – who is seen as the country’s de facto ruler due to President Michael Sata’s poor health – also said it was “unreasonable” for the Scottish Government to lecture him on gay rights.
The 70-year-old, who was born in Zambia to Scottish parents, was here for the Commonwealth Games to see his country in action. Mr Yousaf, the minister for external affairs and international development, organised the meeting on July 21.
A senior Labour figure called for broadcasting watchdog to investigate the Scottish Government’s relationship with the broadcaster
Minutes, revealed under Freedom of Information legislation, show issues discussed included “high whisky import tariffs” and human rights.
Dr Scott then revealed he planned to visit a Lanarkshire jam factory that was owned by some of his relatives.
According to the minutes: “Mr Yousaf suggested having STV cover Dr Scott’s visit to the jam factory in Carluke on Tuesday afternoon and said that we would follow up.”
The following week STV News screened a special report on Dr Scott, raising the issue of gay rights.
Last night, Scottish Labour peer George Foulkes said: “The first thing I’ll do is to ask Ofcom to carry out an inquiry and get to the bottom of it. It appears that some rules have been broken here.
“I think this is a real worry, and this isn’t an isolated case. I’ve heard of this arising with other ministers with both radio and television stations.
“This shows the naivety of Scottish ministers in dealing with foreign affairs and dealing with other governments.
“It is outrageous that they have a minister dealing with that when foreign affairs is an issue reserved to Westminster – especially when they don’t have a department to advise, guide and support to give them the background information. That’s why they get it so spectacularly wrong again, again and again. If there is a Yes vote, this shows the kind of mess the Scottish Government would get into.”
Scottish Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said: “A Scottish Government minister should not be in a position to offer media favours from one of Scotland’s most influential broadcasters.
“It is worrying that Humza Yousaf seems to think this is a legitimate way to do business.”
This row comes four years after a Sunday Express probe prompted Ofcom to investigate STV’s relationship with the Scottish Government.
The media regulator found 18 programmes aired by the broadcaster broke rules due to Holyrood influence.
Dr Scott used his STV interview to reject calls for improved gay rights.
He said: “Scotland introduced gay marriage last week, so therefore Zambia must suddenly?”
Zambia is one of four African nations that benefits from a £6million foreign aid fund set up by the SNP.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Mr Yousaf has absolutely no influence over the editorial decisions of any media. He simply offered to help Dr Scott get in contact with a broadcaster who may be interested in his heritage.”
A STV spokeswoman said: “Each story is considered on its own editorial merit and it is wrong to suggest that anyone other than the STV news team has editorial control over content.”