Oligarch calls for private TV in Russia

Mikhail Prokhorov also said he would quit business to focus his energies entirely on politics.

Moscow: Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the new leader of a Russian pro-reform party, said on Monday that one of the top three state television channels should be privatised and attacked the Kremlin`s governance model.

Speaking in an interview with business daily Vedomosti, Prokhorov, who over the weekend won the leadership of Pravoe Delo (Right Cause), also said he would quit business to focus his energies entirely on politics.

Ranked Russia`s second richest man with a reported fortune of USD 22.7 billion, Prokhorov in May caught Russia by surprise announcing his willingness to head a small pro-business party and help it win enough of the vote to gain entry to the Russian lower house of Parliament, the State Duma, in December polls.

The announcement marked the first foray into politics by a top businessman since the arrest in 2003 of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who supporters say was punished for daring to finance opposition to strongman Vladimir Putin.

Critics say however the move would have been unimaginable without the blessing from Prime Minister Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev who are keen for Russia to have at least some semblance of competition ahead of parliamentary polls in December followed by a presidential vote three months later.

Prokhorov said in the interview that one of his key proposals would be to make one top television channel private to make news media more diverse and competitive.

"I believe that one of three state television channels should be privatised in the nearest future. So that there appears a television channel expressing a different position," he said.

All top television channels in Russia have become state-controlled after Putin came to power in 1999 using his tight control over the national airwaves to consolidate his grip on power and whittle down the influence of big tycoons.

Prokhorov also said he did not share some of the ruling tandem`s views, taking issue with the Kremlin`s top-down governance model.

"On some issues I agree with Vladimir Putin, on some with Dmitry Medvedev, on others I do not agree," he said.

"For example, the country`s governance model. It should be made different. Then the entire chain -- the tax, budget, social spheres and the rest -- would be at its most efficient."

The tycoon, who owns big stakes in the country`s biggest gold producer Polyus Zoloto and UC Rusal, the world`s top aluminium producer, said that from now on politics would take priority over business for him.

"Combining politics with business is impossible and unprofessional," he said.

"An internal conflict may happen -- when my programme begins to come into conflict with my asset. In that case an asset would have to be sold."

Bureau Report

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