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What Effect Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Have on Migration Issues?

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Labour migration in Russia has suffered the shocks of the pandemic and the coming economic crisis, bringing about major changes to its present and future. Even today, many migrants find themselves in the difficult position of having to wait for the restrictive measures to be lifted, and their prospects of going home are vague (due to the borders being temporarily closed, as well as the fact that their home countries suffer from unemployment). Additionally, the access of migrants to the Russian labour market is shrinking rapidly. But do the massive changes that have taken place in 2020 constitute a turning point? How significant will their impact on the future of labour migration in Russia be? How will the situation in Russia be affected (and how much has it already been affected) by the changes in the Eurasian and global migration systems that have been brought about by barriers to migration that have only appeared recently? [1]

The Global Context

The “perfect storm” that has combined the coronavirus pandemic, a dramatic drop in oil prices, the unfolding economic crisis (that is worse than the crises of the last decades), the closing of borders between states (including borders within regional unions such as the EU and the EAEU), the sharp restrictions in international trade, the long-term demand for political populism in most host countries stemming from playing the “migrant card,” the drought expected in Europe and the United States, and the unprecedented plague of locusts in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, will all make it far more difficult to manage migration flows throughout the world.

The consequences of this “perfect storm” that is unfolding before our eyes are so significant that they have prompted a series of negative forecasts, ranging from doubling the scale of the expected famine (according to the United Nations World Food Programme, or WFP, over 265 million people across the globe may face acute food shortages by the end of 2020, which is 130 million more than predicted in 2019) to predicting a revision of the outcomes of globalization, partially abolishing the global division of labour and gradually drifting towards the principle of the self-sufficiency of national economies (if governments fail to take control of the crisis within a year). All these forecasts focus on factors that will ultimately affect migration processes, from prompting new refugee flows out of Africa to the increased vulnerability of migrant workers in most host countries.

New Changes and Changes Long Underway

Rapid changes taking place all over the world in 2020 have altered the challenges involved in controlling migration.

Over the past few decades, Russia has seen major changes in external migration, including differentiation of inbound flows (an increase in the share of families migrating, more migrant women and children, and greater age diversity); growing numbers of migrants from small towns and rural areas; falling education and income levels, as well as greater cultural diversity (including languages and faiths), among newly arriving migrants; and a change in the structure of migration flows, with migrants from Central Asia dominating.

On the other hand, the main incentives for migration to the Russian Federation have not changed: Russia has the best economic situation within the Eurasian migration system; it has an aging population and thus needs a labour force, including unskilled workers. Demand for unskilled labour is evidenced by a stable inbound flow of migrant workers who are mostly employed in unskilled, physically demanding and low-paying (as seen from the calculations of person-hours) jobs.

Migrant workers have essentially become an integral part of Russia’s labour market, and the changes that have taken place in labour migration over recent decades, coupled with the emergence and growth of a “parallel community” with “migrant” services and infrastructure, make their rapid and large-scale return home less likely. For many of them, Russia has already become a second home, and their principal hope for a better future. Nevertheless, some migrant workers will go home in 2020 (let us not forget that many of them are natives of small towns and rural areas who will be able to sustain themselves through their small farmsteads), although the contributing countries have very limited opportunities for supporting their returning citizens. For instance, experts propose giving away land in rural areas and decreasing the tax burden.

Recent expert reviews analyzing the effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on labour migration mostly focus on the short term, while predictions of falling labour migration into Russia use the 2008 and 2014 crises as points of reference. However, the 2020 economic crisis in Russia has its own specifics: the economic situation has deteriorated sharply, and the pandemic has only added to its woes; there has been a sharp drop in oil prices; international sanctions have continued; borders have been closed and economic activities suspended. Another important factor is the social anxiety that the people of Russia have increasingly experienced over the past several years, which has been exacerbated by the negative socio-economic consequences that can already be observed (small and medium-sized businesses closing, large numbers of Russian citizens being laid off and having difficulties paying their mortgages, the vulnerability of mass medical services that has been highlighted by the pandemic, etc.). The state’s mitigating response has been slow in coming, even though it involves minimal costs. Consequently, we can predict an unstable socio-economic (and even political) situation, which will lead to issues of managing migration flows being relegated to the background, while homebound migrant flows will be greater than during previous crises.

The difficult situation today is fraught with unpleasant consequences both for migrant workers themselves and for the Russian labour market. In the coming months, migrant workers will be partially pushed out from the niches of Russia’s legal labour market in big cities. We know this from past experience (the crises of 2008–2010 and 2014–2016). However, purchasing power, which has been limited by the economic crisis, will work major changes in the shadow sector as well, curtailing the number of jobs even in those businesses that do not pay taxes (or do not pay them in full) and minimize their expenditures by way of the super-exploitation of labour. The shadow sector of the labour market is expected to grow. Foreign workers will compete with Russian citizens, and migrants will have certain advantages here, such as a willingness to work for lower hourly wages and in hazardous conditions, including those that are detrimental to their health. Today, the expected drop in quality of life in contributing countries (due, in part, to smaller money transfers from Russia) makes migrant workers a group that easily offers itself up for super-exploitation.

The changes that have taken place on the Russian labour market as a result of the pandemic (increased numbers of delivery persons, greater numbers of white-collar employees switching to online work, etc.) mean that jobs in delivery services that unemployed Russian citizens typically take as stop-gap solutions until they find a more permanent position will go to foreign workers in the medium term. The caregiving services (domestic workers) will continue to grow due to the aging of the Russian population, which will open up new opportunities for foreign citizens. In the medium term, agriculture will also offer more jobs to foreigners.

Two opposing trends will develop: the state will strive to collect more taxes, and entrepreneurs will strive to minimize their expenditures by hiring more foreigners, sometimes semi-legally and sometimes entirely illegally.

Obviously, in both the short and medium term, at greater or lesser pace, migration legislation will continue to be liberalized and the management of migration flows will become more flexible. For instance, during the pandemic, the President issued an executive order that eased the situation of migrants. In addition, a law was passed allowing those who wish to become Russian citizens to keep their previous citizenship, temporary residence permits were abolished and categories for obtaining Russian citizenship were introduced. These developments appear to be links in the chain of this gradual liberalization, no matter how slow it might be.

The events of 2020 will increase the number of foreign citizens willing to obtain a Russian residence permit or Russian citizenship, particularly among migrant workers who have years of experience living and working in Russia. Given the increasing competition with Russian citizens, migrant workers who want to reduce their outgoings will strive to improve their employability, and acquiring a more protected status will help them minimize risks in terms of finding employment and a place to live.

In the short term, when the restrictive measures imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic are lifted, emigration of Russian citizens, including skilled workers, might increase against the background of the economic crisis. Educational migration from post-Soviet states (states contributing to Russia-bound migration) will increase, and the number of migrants studying at Russian vocational educational institutions whose graduates have good employment prospects in Russia will noticeably increase.

Many experts expect an uptick in Russia political activity among the Russian people after the pandemic. This may lead to populist parties enjoying more influence in political life, using xenophobic and migrant-phobic myths to boost their popularity.

Migration Challenges for Russia

The changes that have already taken place and are taking place now have brought the issue of modernizing migration challenges in Russia to the foreground.

Crime and Terrorism

Foreigners have never accounted for more than 3–4 per cent of all crimes committed in Russia, as attested by the official data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. Even given the difficult circumstances that migrant workers have found themselves in over the past few months, we can confidently say that crime is unlikely to surge among them. Their long-term plans are geared towards working in Russia, and Russia has strict rules in place that involve deportation after two offenses (including administrative offenses), followed by a lengthy ban on entering the country. These two factors are a powerful deterrent against any illegal activities. Migrant workers typically find themselves breaking the law when it is difficult for them to overcome the barriers to their acquiring legal status in a lawful manner, and when it is cheaper to solve their immigration issues through illegal means. We are talking about buying fake registrations cards and/or employment contracts, not felonies that involve harm to life or health. However, such situations raise more questions about the height of the hurdles that migrants must overcome in order to obtain legal status than about the migrants themselves.

In both the short and medium term, mass migration into Russia is unlikely to generate an increased terrorist threat. However, terrorism challenges will become more relevant in the long term if the state withdraws the previous funding for integratory measures aimed at migrants of all categories, including the integration of foreign-born Russian citizens, particularly children of naturalized migrants. Additionally, given the possible increase in nationalistic sentiments and the growing numbers of terrorist attacks and right-wing crimes, targeting migrants will become a serious long-term challenge.

Healthcare

The risk of the coronavirus and other infectious diseases quickly spreading among migrants is rather high: studies show that migrants tend to live in overcrowded conditions, have limited resources for purchasing protective equipment and medication, are poorly aware of the recommended preventive measures, and generally do not have medical coverage as the price of even the most medical insurance that would include semi-regular check-ups is prohibitively high for them [2]. Consequently, healthcare for migrants is the gravest challenge of all. Migrants fall under the most vulnerable categories during pandemics throughout the world, not just in Russia. International organizations have already voiced this problem.

Growing Xenophobia and Migrant-Phobia

It is possible that xenophobia and migrant-phobia in Russia may grow, and with Russian citizens losing jobs in large numbers, the possibility will only increase. In times of economic crisis, migrants are traditionally seen as competition for Russian citizens who work in menial jobs, which is only fair if heavily qualified, yet this idea is actively explored by populist politicians. Migrant- and xenophobia are unlikely to lead to serious ethnically motivated conflicts in the near future, but it will certainly increase the popularity of political parties and movements that use anti-migrant rhetoric.

Closed Borders

The situation of foreign migrants has already deteriorated significantly due to the restrictions on inbound, outbound and domestic travel imposed during the pandemic. These restrictions apply equally to Russian citizens and the citizens of the EAEU states. Travel barriers being lifted gradually will hardly result in a quick and full recovery of the migration opportunities that existed before the pandemic. This is also a major challenge, since restrictions on the free movement of labour curtail both regional and international economic growth pace.

Increased Job Competition

The upsurge in unemployment in Russia that began in March–April 2020 and is expected to continue in the coming months will increase the competition between Russian citizens and migrant workers somewhat in the short term. In the medium term, the decrease in the size of the working-age population will weaken this competition. However, if the negative scenario materializes (see below), domestic migration will push job competition between Russian citizens and migrants in large cities to higher levels than before the pandemic.

Depopulation of Russian Provinces

One challenge that has invited little discussion is domestic migration, including seasonal work, i.e. Russian citizens from economically depressed regions travelling for seasonal work to regions that are the strongest economically. Crisis phenomena will spur on domestic migration, especially after the peak of the pandemic has been passed, and this will lead to the faster depopulation of Siberia and the Russian Far East. This is a long-term challenge.

The “Brain Drain”

The emigration of skilled workers from Russia will continue to be partially offset by the influx of talented and educated professionals, primarily young persons, from post-Soviet states. This includes educational migration. A small uptick in the “brain drain” from Russia can be expected in the short term, mostly due to the narrowing windows of opportunity for the young generation due to the socio-economic crisis in Russia, and inbound migration will not entirely offset Russia’s “brain drain.”

Prospects and Conclusions

As of right now, in May 2020, it is difficult to make any accurate estimates about the migration consequences of the “perfect storm” that we are currently experiencing. Not until the pandemic ends and the socio-economic crisis that is brewing becomes clearer. Nevertheless, some consequences for the global community, as well as for Russia, can be seen quite clearly even now.

The International Situation

In the coming years, migrants around the world will experience greater labour exploitation and become increasingly vulnerable. This will be due, among other things, to the growing poverty in countries that contribute to the workforce, as well as to the growing need for migrants to transfer money back home.

Against the background of tightened restrictions and greater obstacles to legal migration, both undocumented (illegal) migration and human trafficking will increase.

Famine and social unrest (including armed conflicts) stemming from unresolved problems with food supplies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East will increase the risks of new refugee flows.

If deglobalization does not lead to outright border closures and integration associations shutting themselves off (for instance, the European Union closing its borders), then it may, to a greater or lesser degree, result in new restrictions on migration. Having said that, the triumph of globalization is that it has been interfering with or even destroying the self-sufficiency of most countries for decades, increasing their dependence on the international division of labour, tourism, and trade. The cutting of international ties during the pandemic has worsened the situation in all states that depend on international supply chains. Consequently, a new upsurge in industrialization and reindustrialization in both developed and developing countries appears quite realistic. In the medium and long term, this development will bolster the demand for both skilled and unskilled workers and result in the obstacles to migration flows being somewhat relaxed.

Russia

Russia fits into most of the global trends outlined above.

In the short term, the EAEU partnership will take on more pragmatic, or perhaps stricter, forms. However, migration flows will not shrink. Instead, they will change their format: shadow labour relations will increase, as will the number of human rights violations; labour protection standards will deteriorate, and human trafficking will be on the rise. Thus far, the negative consequences of these changes are hard to assess, but in the medium term (the next three to four years), Russia can expect to see the following scenarios, all of which directly depend on the socio-economic measures the government adopts in the short term.

1. The optimistic scenario.

Once the restrictive measures are lifted, the Government of the Russian Federation will launch intensive purchasing power support by pouring money into the economy and helping it emerge from the “slowdown,” with special attention being paid to small- and medium-sized businesses [3]. Demand for migrant labour (both skilled and unskilled) will gradually increase, and in the medium term, those migrant workers who had gone into the shadow economy immediately after the restrictive measures were lifted and those who had temporarily returned home will have more opportunities for legal employment.

Centripetal trends in domestic migration (people moving to Central Russia) will remain in place, but there will be no major increases in seasonal workforce. Educational migration in Russia will continue at the same pace and will gradually become differentiated due to the influx of foreign students into Russian vocational educational institutions. Migration legislation will be further liberalized, thus stimulating the legal employment of Migrant workers. Considerable attention will be paid to the influx of skilled labour and to curtailing the “brain drain.”

This scenario implies migration flows returning to their previous levels in the short term and gradually increasing in the medium term.

2. The pessimistic scenario.

The Russian economy is slow to recover. Solvent demand is low. Real unemployment is growing. Jobs in economic niches that had been traditionally occupied by migrants are moving into the shadow economy. Migration-related corruption does not drop, or even grows and becomes a part of everyday life, making it more difficult for the authorities to manage the migration system. Business owners, particularly small business owners, prefer to hire migrant workers off the books. Super-exploitation of migrants continues or even increases. Non-payment of wages and other elements of human trafficking are not suppressed effectively and become more widespread. Foreign workers (including workers from Central Asia) are partially re-oriented to other labour markets. The “brain drain” and emigration from Russia continue, mainly in the form of young people.

Domestic migration into Central Russia is on the rise, as is seasonal work. Educational migration to Russia shows little growth, but Russian vocational educational institutions attract more foreign students. The liberalization of migration legislation slows down.

In this scenario, the migration flow will recover within the next one to three years.

Just which scenario will appear depends directly on the socio-economic situation in Russia and on the stability of its political development. Right now, the second (pessimistic) scenario appears more realistic.

[1]Ivakhniuk I.V. The Eurasian Migration System: Theory and Policies. Moscow: MAKS Press, 2008 (in Russian).

[2] Poletaev D. V. and Y. F. Florinskaya. Migrant Awareness of Tuberculosis and HIV. Moscow: Krasny Krest, 2015.

[3] When Does Russia’s Economy Pass the Point of No Return? Working Paper. April 2020. Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Institute for the Economy of Growth. http://stolypin.institute/institute/kogda-budet-proydena-tochka-nevozvrata-dlya-rossiyskoy-ekonomiki/

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D. in Economics, Director at the Center for Migration Studies; Lead Researcher, Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC expert

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International Law

The rise & rise of populist demagogues in democratic nations

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The term dictators & demagogues are used interchangeably in various contexts but there’s a difference, the former rules over a totalitarian state where government is able to exercise a complete influence over every aspect of citizen’s life whereas the latter is a “wannabe dictator” but due to the system of checks & balance in place they’re are not fully capable to create police states.

In 21st century these flamboyant  demagogues  have adjusted their personality & politics in such a way  that they successfully hide their intent & action in the shadows of democratic system so unlike Hitler’s Fascist regime or North Korea’s Communist dictatorship, it’s difficult to held them accountable because they’ll try to justify their hasty & unreasonable decision  in the name of Constitution & larger public good.

There are some common qualities shared by populist demagogues in  democratic countries that need to be checked in all seasons to protect the country & its people from potential benevolent dictators.

1.Compromised Constitutional Bodies

The rabble-rousers of the modern era have smartly learnt from their predecessors that to stay in power for eternity, it’s important to curb & limit the functions of Independent Institutions like Courts, Central Bank, Auditory Bodies, Investigation Agencies etc. For instance the President of Turkey Recep Erdogan has almost destroyed judicial independence in the country & with the recent news about the call of his political ally to shut down Turkey’s Constitutional Courts is not just alarming but also a cause of concern in a country where a record number of journalists are serving jail sentences under false charges & this decision if taken will not just compromise the press freedom which is already at its nadir in Turkey but it’ll also weaken the capacity of judicial system to guarantee the protection of people’s rights.

2.Unnecessary Focus on the revival of Glorious Past

Demagogues keep reminding us about the ancient prosperity & always pushing the narrative to portray their   country as the leading force , it can be done via 2 ways, either promote the soft power like culture, tradition, civilization & spirituality or use even nasty tricks to pull out the blinded nationalism that includes portraying one’s country as the leading colonizer, telling people about invaders & portray them as protector of native civilization or use race theory to create a class divide in society like Hitler did by invoking the Aryan identity that made some people into believing that they are superior to others.

By inciting this false hope of regaining the past glory & branding slogans like “Make America Great Again”, “For us, Hungary First”, “Abki bar, Modi Sarkar” they deceit & manipulate people into voting for their parties without doing any substantive work on the ground.

3.No respect for Dissent & Human Rights

Dissent or criticism of the leader & its establishment is part of a healthy Democratic society where people are fundamentally free to express their views regarding the government’s policies. While delivering a lecture on the topic,” The Hues That Make India: From Plurality to Pluralism,” the Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud noted that ” Descent is the safety valve of a democracy”  but sadly the Modern day Niro of India who ironically belongs to the same State where this lecture was being delivered has left no stone unturned to deliberately cut this valve into pieces.

Critics & Human Rights Activists are put behind bars for raising their voice against the atrocities & crime inflicted on tribals, minorities & other vulnerable sections of society. They are mercilessly beaten, tortured, thrashed & maimed in solitary confinements making no exceptions for maintaining basic human decency that is expected from the “World’s Largest Democracy”.

4. Polarisation for winning elections

The gruesome killing of George Floyd by White male police officer sparked a global outrage & protests against the racial inequality & hate crime that is at its highest level in more than a decade. People demanded accountability & change to stop the Institutionalised & Systemic racism against the people of color in the United States. Ex-president Trump instead of calling out & condemning white supremism  (terrorism) has defended & even embraced this far right radical ideology of hate.

As per the report by V-Dem, there’s an upsurge in political polarisation in India since 2014 when BJP seize the power at Centre & this is evident by frequent incidents of mob-lynching, riots & attacks on minorities especially muslims & Dalits in India. This report further states that Freedom of Religion has seen a considerable decline under the current regime. The reason behind these precipitous decline is the rise of Hindutva Politics which was long gone, forgotten & buried in the coffin but the BJP has called out the jinn of hatred to sway elections after elections at the cost of people who want to live a peaceful life in a non-hostile environment.

5.Violate established rules of Political Conduct

Politics was always a dirty business but populist leaders in most democracies have stooped to a new low & ruined it further. They never shy away from using homophobic & sexiest slurs or passing derogatory remarks against their counterparts in other parties.

Take for instance Brazilian President Bolsonaro, a nutcase who revokes popular prejudices in his ugly campaign rhetoric by passing many offensive & utterly distasteful comments against women, gays, environmentalists & minorities.

The rise of retro-macho politics has left no space for political sobriety & if unchecked, the tumor of hypermasculinity will not be just limited to hate speeches & jibes but translate into formidable action against humanity.

That’s how Romanian dictator Ceaușescu turned his political rhetoric into dystopian reality, under his dictatorship, birth control was banned, abortion was outlawed & fetus was declared the “property of society”, so women were tested for pregnancy & monitored to make sure that they give birth, and punished if they failed.

6. Refusal to accept migrants from Impoverished & war-torn countries

This is the hypocrisy of Western States who for decades have waged war, supported regime change, imposed Economic sanctions & trade barriers, sold weapons to militants in Middle-eastern & African countries finally when refugees & immigrants are arriving at the European borders from these destabilized countries where anarchy has bolstered civil war & complete chaos after covering an extremely dangerous route & taking enormous risks such as relying on people-smugglers or using flimsy boats to cross rough seas, they were detained & locked up under inhumane conditions in shipping containers in Hungary at whims & fancies of  Hungarian government headed by ultra-right wing Viktor Orbán but after the European Union Court ruling last year, Hungary has finally shut-down these illegal migrant transit zones situated on its border with Serbia, at the same time tightening rules which will effectively bar future migration prospects in EU member states.

7. Climate Change Deniers

Climate Change is the biggest threat to human existence in the 21st Century. Earth’s Climate is now changing faster than at any point in modern civilization, primarily as the result of human activities. It needs to be understood that Climate Change is not just a science issue but a policy issue as well. In most of the countries where demagogues are in-charge the policy seems to be more destructive, anti-science & discredit the scientific studies that show that effects of Climate Change are horrific & destructive for the Planet.

The environmental policies of Bolsonaro in Brazil have put the Amazon Rainforest on the verge of extinction. Regarded as the “lungs of the Earth”, the Amazon acts as a giant carbon sink & is also responsible for driving rain patterns across South America & Africa. Leaked documents revealed that Bolsonaro has cynical plans for Amazon Rainforest that includes hydroelectric plants, construction of bridges on Amazon river & a proposed highway through the dense forest to integrate Amazon basin with the rest of the National territory.

Under pressure from the Biden Government, Bolsonaro is now promising to make Brazil Carbon neutral by 2050 but his Environmental minister has asserted that his country is ready to cut 40 percent of deforestation in Amazon Forest only if the International Community will provide $1Billion as assistance. Though It is highly unlikely that the Brazilian government will take any steps against the influential farming lobby that played an important role in the victory of Bolsonaro in 2018 & to whom he has promised to dismantle existing environmental protections to make way for agricultural land expansion and intensified production.

The rise of populist leaders in  democratic countries is not sudden, before seizing power they boastfully promise to set their country free from corruption, crime & socio-economic inequality but after winning election they shift their goal post to achieve sinister objectives. Electoral political system in a democracy needs an urgent overhaul to include an educated perspective rather than simply representing the

will of majority which is no less than tyranny & this could only happen if people(voters) are aware about fascism among themselves & what  does it take for a normal country to become a Nazi State that had turned itself on the path of ravage & destruction. The importance of self realisation & tumultuous past is aptly described in a quote by Ernest Hemingway in his classic book, For whom the Bell tolls “But are there not many fascists in your country?’ There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes“.

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OTT broadcast and its censorship: Whether a violation of freedom of speech and expression

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The whole world, owing to coronavirus pandemic, is enveloped in the darkness. It has wreaked havoc on almost all the aspect of human lives. The educational institutions, theaters and cinemas all have been shuttered. Public gatherings, to maintain the social distancing, have been firmly discouraged. Further, the pandemic has significantly modified the media and entertainment consumption patterns. Social lives ventured into digital environment as a result of people being cramped to their homes. People have switched to several sources of entertainment from the comfort of their own homes and over-the-top (“OTT”) platforms have proven to be a major source of entertainment.

OTT platforms have grown exponentially and taken over the industry. OTT platforms expedites streaming of video content over the web. Several OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney Hotstar, Disney+, Apple TV+, Hulu, etc., have primarily ousted the traditional television service. The notification issued by the Central Government of India aimed at getting online media platforms and content on OTT platforms within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has been making the rounds in recent times. The cabinet Secretariat, on November 9, 2020, released a notification amending the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961. It has incorporated two new entries to the second schedule of the Rules namely Films and Audio-visual programmes provided by online service provider as well as News and Current Affairs. This action is attributed to the fact that there is large amount of an unrestricted content available on the web as well as lack of an adequate regulatory regime in place to protect its users.

Universal self-Regulation code

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) had come up with a Universal self-Regulation code (code) to administer the content available on OTT platforms. The code was primarily adopted by the fifteen OTT platforms namely zee 5, Viacom 18, Disney Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, MX Player, Jio Cinema, Eros Now, Alt Balaji, Arre, HoiChoi, Hungama, Shemaroo, Discovery Plus and Flickstree. SonyLIV and Lionsgate too have recently signed the code. It was manifestly stated in the code that The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) is the main governing framework when it comes to online content. The values enshrined in Article 19 of India’s Constitution, namely the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, direct the internet and material on the internet. A policy for the digital content sector has to be drafted in line with Article 19 of the Indian Constitution i.e. the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, and any constraints on the aforesaid right should be fall within the purview of constitutional restrictions set forth in Article 19(2) of the India’s Constitution.

Further, the code had delineated a mechanism pertaining to (i) Age Classification (the code had particularized the certain categories for standardized age classification namely All ages, 7+, 13+, 16+ and 18+) (ii) Appropriate content specification ( a content descriptor appropriate to each piece of content that demonstrates and tells the viewer about the essence of the content while also advising on viewer discretion) and (iii) Access control Tools( to regulate access to content, signatories to the Code may implement technological tools and measures for access control i.e. PIN/Password.) The code had also established the perspicuous grievance redressal and escalation process to lodge complaint regarding non-adherence to specified guidelines. The MIB, however, has repudiated the proposed code since it did not explicitly categorize the prohibited content. Further, there is no independent third-party oversight and a transparent code of ethics. The MIB instructed IAMAI to seek guidance from the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) self-regulatory frameworks.

A public interest litigation was consolidated in October, 2018, before the hon’ble Delhi High court by Justice For Rights Foundation to draught certain guidelines for modulating the content available on OTT platforms. The MIB while filing the counter affidavit stated that digital platforms are not required to procure a license from them to exhibit their content and the same is not controlled by them. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has also mentioned that they do not oversee internet content and there exists no mechanism for monitoring or licensing an agency or establishment that posts content on the internet. Nevertheless, it was claimed that the provisions concerning IT are applicable, and concerned legislative authority having jurisdiction under the aforesaid Act is authorized to take action using the power granted to them under section 69 of the Act which involves directives for interception, surveillance, or data encryption. Further, under Section 67 of the Act there are penalties pertaining to posting or disseminating obscene information in any digital form. Accordingly, the court while dismissing the petition opined that it cannot grant a mandamus for the creation of regulations when the IT Act already contains stringent restrictions and currently the foregoing petition is pending in the hon’ble supreme court.

Positions of the law in regards to film screenings

A film must be certified by the Central Board of Film Certification before it can be displayed or distributed in cinemas or on satellite, and the content is constrained by existing laws. The CBFC was established by the Cinematograph Act of 1952. When it was established, it was designated as the Board of Film Censors. It was amended in 1959 to give it the authority to certify a picture for mass consumption. The Cinematograph Act of 1952, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995, and the Cable Television Networks Rules of 1994 are among the laws that govern the industry. However, there is no such particular legislation for regulating material on OTT platforms. The government by virtue of Article 19(2) of Indian constitution can impose restrictions on freedom of speech and expressions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality and so on. Consequently, broadcasted content has often been a restricted matter. In K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Another[1], the constitutionality of censorship was initially challenged. The hon’ble supreme court has upheld the constitutionality of censorship under Article 19(2) of the India’s constitution and stated that films must be viewed differently from any kind of art and expressions because a motion picture can elicit more intense emotional response than any other product of Art. However, such censorship should not be exercised to imposed an undue restriction on freedom of speech and expression.

The constitutionality of censorship was also disputed in S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram [2]wherein the hon’ble supreme court has held that the board’s criterion for appraising the films must be that of an ordinary man with common sense and wisdom rather than that of a hypersensitive mind. The Moral values ought not to be compromised in the realm of any social change. The concept of “Dharam” should not be disrupted by the immoral norms or standards. However, it does not suggest that censors must embrace a conservative perspective. They should be resilient to social change and go with the topical environment. The film is the most legitimate and significant medium for addressing topics of public concern. The producer has the right to broadcast his own message, which others may or may not concur with. The state, regardless of how hostile to its policies, cannot suppress open debate and expression. The democracy is basically a government by the people based on open debate. The democratic form of administration necessitates citizens’ active and informed engagement in the societal issue.

Furthermore in, Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr. V. The Central Board of Certification[3], it was said that we are governed in a democratic manner. We can’t expect everyone’s head and intellect to be the same in a democracy. Freedom to think and act in a different way is at the heart of democracy. The beauty of democracy is the diversity of viewpoints, ideas, and manifestations. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to exhibit themselves in the same way. In the film business, new blood is being infused. This new blood is revved up and eager to get their feet wet in the industry. The film business and the general public have embraced such new blood. Their effort has been recognized and praised by the government. These works are predicated on a certain way of thinking that is unique to them. They have their own opinions and ideas on how the film business should operate, as well as how the medium altogether must be managed. Profanity, obscenity, and depravity do not shock human emotions. Such situations and discussions must be seen in their entirety. The narrative must be perused in its totality and thought upon. It is not appropriate to choose a few phrases, lines, conversations, or situations and venture into the board’s resolution. Certainly, the state, and notably the Central Board of Film Certification, cannot attempt to sculpt and dominate public opinion under the guise of purported public interest or audience preference. That would be terrible, as it would hit at the heart of democracy and civil liberty, which are held in such high regard by everybody. The goals of film certification, consequently, cannot be achieved by disregarding the Constitutionally guaranteed right or by fully undermining and disappointing it. A movie has to be watched on its own and judged accordingly. The plot, subject, background, and location in which it is created, the message it aims to express, and the entertainment, among other things, would all have to be assessed using section 5B’s standards.

Should OTT platforms be governed by a code of self-regulation?

Self-regulation is presently the only option available to such platforms in order to maintain the ability to broadcast material without undue censorship. Because unreasonable restriction would impede the creative flexibility of OTT platforms. It will assist platforms in conducting themselves in an ethical and fair manner while also safeguarding the interests of their users. It would protect content producers’ artistic freedom by promoting creativity and upholding an individual’s right to free speech and expression. The general public desires to view the content in its original and untainted state. They strive to understand artwork in its most primitive sense. The fundamental role of government agency is to maintain the fair field, not to inhibit innovation and ingenuity by placing limitations in a tech industry.

Self-regulators’ competence allows them to adjust their regulations more quickly than government agencies in reaction to technological advancement. More significantly, independent of any technological change, the self-regulator is better equipped to decide when a rule should be modified to improve compliance. Self-regulation has the ability to make compliance more appealing. It develops regulations based on an expert’s level of understanding, customized to the specific sector. These rules are viewed by regulated entities as more “reasonable” from the inception owing to their involvement[4].

Conclusion

The MIB by virtue of the amendment has now can regulate and draught policies regarding digital media and online streaming on OTT platforms. However, such governmental intervention can considerably jeopardize the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. The suppression of freedom of speech and expression is what censorships is all about. The freedom of speech and expression suggests that right to manifest one’s thought via words of mouth, writing, picture and any other means. The freedom of speech is one of the most well-known and fiercely protected civil rights against government encroachment. In modern democratic societies, it is generally considered as an essential notion. Every citizen of a democratic nation has the freedom to express his or her opinions on various issues. Thousands of viewpoints are disseminated around the country via various channels. A film director has the freedom to manifest himself and gives effect to his thoughts, even though others may not concur with him. An exhibition of films as well as documentaries cannot be prohibited for purely speculative reasons since prohibiting motion pictures is tantamount to suppressing the right to freedom of expression and speech. Restrictions upon Individual’s freedom of speech and expression must only be permitted if they are required to avert severe harm from being perpetrated. It is critical to have a healthy and extensive amount of free expression in order to assert a thriving and well- functioning democracy. Democracy, otherwise, is obsolete and akin to a totalitarian dictatorship[5]. It should be up to the public to determine what they want to see and what they don’t want to watch. Thus, the cornerstone to safeguarding artistic freedom is a sustainable self-governance paradigm.


[1] K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Another (1970) 2 S.C.C. 780

[2] S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989) 2 S.C.C. 574

[3] Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr. V. The Central Board of Certification 2016 S.C.C. online Bom 3862: (2016) 4 AIR Bom R 593: AIR 2017 (NOC 62) 29

[4] Id. at 13

[5] Subhradipta Sarkar, RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH IN A CENSORED DEMOCRACY, UNIVERSITY OF DENVER SPORTS

 AND ENTERTAINMENT LAW JOURNAL 62, 84 ,89 (2009)

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International Law

What Determines Taliban Government’s Legitimacy?

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With the fall of Kabul, and the evasion of President Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban has taken over the reins of Afghanistan. States like Pakistan and China have already expressed their willingness to “work with the Taliban”  thereby legitimizing the Taliban government, whereas India has refused to recognize this “reign of terror”. The jurisprudential question of legitimacy arises here because the transfer of power in Afghanistan was through a coup d’etat which constitutes an extra-constitutional means of formation of government. Governments desire legitimacy because it gives them the right to rule and an acceptance on the international and domestic levels.

The most accepted theory in this regard is Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law. Kelsen, a positivist, claimed that law was contaminated by sociological impurities and morality, and focussed his theory on law alone. He based the legitimacy of the new order of government on its efficacy, and a rule was said to be efficacious when individuals regulated by it “behave, by and large, in conformity” with it. When the new order was efficacious, the coup was said to be successful, and the new government was held to be a legitimate one. Kelsen’s theory was widely accepted to uphold governments after coups such as in The State v. Dosso (Pakistan; 1958), Madzimbamuto v. Lardner-Burke (Southern Rhodesia; 1968), and Uganda v. Commissioner of Prisons (Uganda; 1966), among others. Since Kelsen tries to purify laws from the socio-political aspects, he contends that that it is irrelevant why people comply with the law and it could even be out of pure fear. Thus, a rogue government such as the Taliban which is efficacious as it receives compliance out of coercion and not out of consent, would be a legitimate one from a Kelsenian perspective.

The primary criticism that arises to Kelsen’s separability thesis is that he fails to distinguish between validity of law and its legitimacy. Critics have argued that while validity of law concerns with its authoritativeness, legitimacy depends on the virtue of justness and is contingent upon socio-political and moral factors. The issue lies with attaching legitimacy to the performance of the government. Instead, legitimacy should involve the questions of whether the government has the ability to demand the obligations out of voluntary conviction, provide for public goods such as the rule of law, protection of fundamental rights, etc., and function in a manner such that the society is generally benefitted. A study on legitimacy in seventy-two countries concludes that more the citizens are treated as rightful holders of political power, more legitimacy the government derives. This means that the virtue of legitimacy must flow from the citizens and the society and not from a coercive power that the top-down approach provides.

In the light of this, when the Taliban government is examined, it is realised that with its extremist ideology and terror activities in the past, it can hardly fulfil this criteria.While the ‘good Taliban’ has claimed that it will protect the freedom of press and not discriminate against women while allowing for their participation in the society within framework of Islamic law, these assurances will pacify only those who are unfamiliar with its history. Under the rule of Taliban in the years between 1996 and 2001, human rights were suspended, and political killings, rape, torture, amputation, and public executions were common place. A Taliban 2.0 which has emerged victorious against one of the major superpowers of the world, and has external support is unlikely to reform. Ideologically, they still remain the same movement committed to a puritan interpretation of Islam and this is evidenced by the fact that the barbaric Sharia law is in place once again. These baseless claims should be perceived as a political strategy to appease states into granting them de jure legitimacy because despite the jurisprudence of legitimacy developed, there is nothing in the international law that bars states like China, Russia, Pakistan or others from recognizing the rogue state of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Therefore, the future of the Taliban and Afghanistan rests in the interplay of international actors.

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