ALEX Salmond is to be questioned at the Leveson Inquiry over his close links to Rupert Murdoch's empire.

The First Minister's appearance at the hearings into media ethics was revealed by the Scottish Government last night after it came under pressure over emails from Frederic Michel, a senior Murdoch lieutenant at News Corporation, to James Murdoch.

Mr Michel, the company's director of public affairs, appeared to suggest in the documents revealed by the inquiry Mr Salmond would lobby Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the company's behalf over News Corporation's plan to take control of BSkyB.

Mr Salmond's invitation and acceptance to appear at the Leveson Inquiry had never previously been publicised.

It was claimed at an uncomfortable post-cabinet media briefing last night his appearance would only have been announced once a date had been set.

Mr Salmond's principal adviser, Kevin Pringle, was not on duty, meaning one of his colleagues took the briefing and attempted to stick rigidly to the line that the emails represented "internal chatter and chit-chat" within the Murdoch empire.

The spokesman added: "How it is deciphered and deconstructed is a matter for News International."

Although there were no Scottish Government communications relating to Murdoch unveiled yesterday, the Government did not deny all of the facts contained in the emails.

Close scrutiny was paid to a February 11, 2011, email from Mr Michel to then News International chairman James Murdoch. Titled "Sky News/Scotland", Mr Michel wrote: "I met with Alex Salmond's adviser today. He will call [Culture Secretary Jeremy] Hunt whenever we need him to."

The Government spokesman "cautioned against" assuming this referred to Mr Pringle, saying of his colleague: "I'm not familiar with what all of them [the special advisers] are doing this week, far less more than a year ago."

However, the efforts to identify the unnamed adviser detracted from the more serious suggestions Mr Salmond wanted Sky News to televise a debate between himself and Labour leader Iain Gray in the run-up to last May's Holyrood elections.

In the email written to James Murdoch, dated February 11, 2011, following a meeting with "Alex Salmond's adviser", Mr Michel wrote: "He [Mr Salmond] believes the time has come to organise a First Ministerial debate between him and Iain Gray, who are the two only possible FM candidates.

"He would be very keen for Sky News to organise it with Adam," suggesting the potential involvement of the TV channel's political editor Adam Boulton.

Last night the Government aide stuck to the mantra that the Sky competition issue was in no way within the remit of Holyrood and that, in the event, the First Minister had never spoken to or corresponded with UK ministers on it.

When asked that if the offer had been made, would it have been taken up, the official said it was "never ventilated". With 6000 Sky jobs in Scotland at stake, the First Minister would have talked about that "but he wasn't asked," he added.

He added: "The Scottish Government had no locus so the whole premise falls at the first hurdle as it is predicated on the First Minister offering a quid pro quo that did not exist. This was not an issue in any way shape or form for the Scottish Government."

The spokesman was further grilled about a March 2, 2011, email from Mr Michel to James Murdoch, which said: "Alex Salmond called. He had a very good dinner with the editor of the Sun in Scotland yesterday. The Sun is now keen to back the SNP at the election."

He finished: "On the Sky bid, he will make himself available to support the debate if consultation is launched."

The Government spokesman said the date was "a fact".

Mr Salmond, is in for an intriguing First Minister's Questions after pledging to face his critics at Holyrood.

He has previously faced criticism over his relationship with the Murdochs.

Last month the First Minister was criticised for having tea and biscuits with Rupert Murdoch at his official residence Bute House.

A series of letters last year revealed Mr Salmond lavishing praise on the News Corporation chief executive, even describing him, wrongly, as Sir Rupert. He also repeatedly asked him to be his guest at events, including the Ryder Cup.

The publication of Mr Salmond's meetings with newspaper executives also showed one in three were with a representative of the Murdoch empire. They revealed Mr Salmond had met Mr Murdoch in New York within months of becoming First Minister and later sent him a letter saying he had found their discussions "both insightful and stimulating".

For his part Mr Murdoch has also courted controversy in recent months with vocal support for the First Minister. He posted that the First Minister was "clearly most brilliant politician in UK" on Twitter in February.

Murdoch's Sun on Sunday splashed the apparent date of the 2014 referendum shortly after its launch.