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How A Billionaire Knows He's Pushed The Kremlin Too Far

When Super-Rich Russian opposition leader Mikhail Prokhorov called the country’s party system a "sham," he subsequently vanished from state TV after months of air time. The last oligarch to push too far was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now serv

Prokhorov getting air time on Channel 24 back in June
Prokhorov getting air time on Channel 24 back in June
Arina Borodina

MOSCOW - It seems that if you want to judge a political figure's favor with the Kremlin, you just have to tune in to Russian television. Just take a look at this past week, for example, when billionaire opposition leader Mikhail Prokhorov attacked the Kremlin and called the country's party system a ‘sham." Now the politician who appeared so often on TV, has suddenly disappeared from the screen.

The increasingly visible oligarch -- who has a net worth of $18 billion and owns the New York Nets basketball team -- entered politics in May, quickly becoming a regular fixture on state TV channels, appearing on the channel Russia 1.

Prokhorov's cosy relationship with Russian state TV was clear. In one high-profile interview on the show News on Saturday, Sergey Brilyev, the country's best-known broadcaster, referred to how they had been acquaintances for a long time.

Prokhorov also appeared on NTV, as well as on Channel One where on one talk show, he even drew out of a hat the names of audience members to ask him questions.

In June, he officially became leader of the pro-business party, Right Cause, seen by many as a Kremlin-sponsored project to give the illusion of a viable opposition, a claim Prokhorov always denied.

He was then on air almost every day, giving views on a wide range of subjects. He was on state TV more often than members of the ruling party, United Russia.

But as the Right Cause's congress unfolded this week, the TV agenda suddenly changed.

The Channel One story on its six o'clock bulletin about a split within the party was balanced, and quoted Prokhorov as saying there had been "a raid" on his party. But soon, the style and tone of output changed radically.

An hour earlier, Russia 1's report emphasized the scandal and confusion around Right Cause. Then the host of the programme ‘Times' started to refer to Prokhorov not as the leader of the party, but tersely as ‘a billionaire who had not turned up to the congress."

For two days on any of the three main state channels, not one word was said about how Prokhorov had condemned the president's administration for putting pressure on his party.

Memories of Mikhail

Prokhorov called for the ouster of the deputy head of the presidential administration, Vladimir Surkov, calling him a "puppet master" choreographing the upcoming December parliamentary elections which were an "elaborate scam." Surkov's name was not mentioned once on the airwaves.

The last oligarch to confront the authorities was Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003. An oil tycoon financing an opposition party, he is now serving a 13-year sentence for embezzlement.

On September 15, there was no mentioned on the midday news on the First Channel about the scandal enveloping the party. On NTV at 1pm, the Today program simply led with the news that at the congress, 75 party members had lost trust in their leader.

Its correspondent reported that the delegates were unhappy at Prokhorov's behavior, and said "no one had pressured him at all."

Then it was fellow Right Cause activist Evgeny Roizman's turn to be criticized. Channel Russia 24, like with Prokhorov, simply referred to him by his surname.

They said that Roizman had been tried on theft, fraud, and illegal possession of weapons, even though the convictions had been dropped a long time ago. Meanwhile Prokhorov's appearance in a five-minute long report was reduced to only a few seconds.

Each of the channels gave different versions of his speech to Congress, cutting it for their own ends.

NTV to its credit, reported his reference to the "falsification of the congress," and his declaration to party members that despite "the pressure on us, you have survived and I am proud that you are real people."

Russia 1 edited it down, while on Russia 24 cut the remarks to nothing more than: "Today, we are at a congress."


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photo - Channel 24

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