Meet Vladimir Pozner, Russia’s Larry King

An insider with a penchant for ruffling official feathers, popular television host Vladimir Pozner pushes boundaries while still toeing the party line.

Pierre Avril

MOSCOW - Is it possible to be an independent journalist in a country where the media is constricted by both self-censorship and the State's firm grip? Vladimir Pozner, a leading journalist for the Russian TV station Pervyi Kanal, seems determined to find out, venturing out on a proverbial tightrope every Sunday at 11 p.m. His live show is simply called "Pozner," like the recently retired American "Larry King Show." The similarities between the two would probably not stop here, if only Russia were more familiar with the freedom of press.

One of Russia's most popular broadcast journalists, Pozner does what he can to reinforce the press as a pillar of democracy. Recently, he politely ridiculed Alexandre Tkatchov, governor of Krasnodar, the region which is hosting the Sochi Olympic Winter Games. During the show, Pozner told his guest he would be submitted to the Proust questionnaire (a form of interview made famous by French writer Marcel Proust). "I am sorry to say that I have never met this gentleman Proust," says Tkatchov apologetically. "I will introduce you to him if you like," Pozner bluntly replies.

The journalist's first question, "What is your greatest regret?" gets a tasteless "None." Pozner goes on to ask "Which talent would you have liked to have?" For the second time, the answer is "None." Throughout the interview, Pozner makes his guest look like a complete idiot.

Looking back on the episode, the journalist is more upset than amused. "Not only has Tkatchov never heard of Marcel Proust -- an error for which he might be forgiven -- but he never even bothered to find out what my show is about," Pozner says.

For him, this kind of behavior shows just how disdainful Russian authorities are of the media. "All TV channels belong to the government, but the politicians don't even know how to use them properly. For them, news and propaganda are one and the same," Pozner says.

Black List

Pozner inherited his love for writing and literature from his French mother. His father, a Lithuanian Jew who strongly believed in communism and worked as a spy for the NKVD (precursor to the KGB), gave him his hunger for nonconformity. Both parents worked in the film industry in Paris (his mother for Paramount and his father for the Metro Goldwyn Mayer) when Vladimir Pozner was born, in 1934. Seven years later, the Pozners fled Paris and the Vichy regime, and sailed to the United States. There Pozner Sr. headed the Russian language section of the U.S. War Department films in Washington, D.C. For the authorities in Moscow, the double agent was knows as "Plato."

But the Pozner family's life in the shadows did not last long. With the arrival of McCarthysm, they were forced to flee again in 1948, this time to East Berlin. That is where Vladimir started to learn Russian. "It was a rather difficult period," he said. "I hated the Germans and I wanted to go to the Soviet Union, thinking that I would find a land of freedom and justice, without any poverty." His dream came true in 1952 when the family moved there, only three months before Stalin's death.

In the Russian capital, Vladimir studied the biochemistry of the brain, translated English poems into Russian, and eventually took up a job as a journalist for the newly created Ria Novosti official press agency. "What I did at that time makes me a little ashamed now, but this first job allowed me to find my real vocation in life. It also gave me a chance to travel. Plus, my salary wasn't all that bad." The events in Prague in 1968 opened the young journalist's eyes. Later, perestroika gave him the opportunity to tear up his Communist party membership card.

But in 1991, Pozner moved to the United States after being sacked from Russian national television for his open criticism of the Gorbachev regime. Trouble followed him there as well. After working for CNBC for five years, Pozner's American employers complained about his alleged bias towards left-wing figures. Accusing them of censorship, the embattled journalist went to live in Moscow again. "Back then in 1991, I learned how to fight fear. Today I make enough money to have a comfortable life. I have three passports (U.S., French and Russian) and I have a lot of freedom."

It is undoubtedly because of his fame and self-confidence that Pozner thinks he can sometimes defy the government and get away with it. Just over a month ago, when Putin made an impromptu visit to Pervyi Kanal, Pozner raised the possibility that the channel invite some opposition figures to be guests on the program. Putin's answer is easy to guess.

"The prime minister and I have very different political thinking: he believes the country is not yet ready for independent television. I share President Medvedev's opinion that we will never learn how to swim if we never make the plunge."

In the media business, not everyone agrees with Pozner's half-way approach. "It is kind of humiliating for our trade as a whole to see this media patriarch asking for permission from the prime minister to invite leaders of the opposition," says Alexei Venediktov, editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, one of the few independent radio stations in Russia.

For the time being, Pozner respects his boss' wish to blacklist seven key opposition figures, including former Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov. Like many others, Russia's Larry King is no doubt waiting for Putin to retire.

Read the original article in French.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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