Pre-Execution Reality TV Show on Death Row?

Henan Television’s legal channel has been airing the reality TV show Interviews Before Execution (临刑会见) since 2006. Due to its online availability [zh], the program has been widely viewed across China. The show has lately been covered extensively by foreign media, most notably in a recent BBC This World documentary. An article in BBC News Magazine describes the show and its culturally-relative quality:

In Henan Province, in central China, millions of people have been tuning in every week to watch an extraordinary talk show called Interviews Before Execution, in which a reporter interviews murderers condemned to death. The show ran for just over five years, until it was taken off air on Friday.

Every Monday morning, reporter Ding Yu and her team scoured court reports to find cases to cover on their programme. They had to move quickly, as prisoners in China can be executed seven days after they are sentenced.

To Western eyes the show’s format may seem exploitative, but Ding disagrees.

“Some viewers may consider it cruel to ask a criminal to do an interview when they are about to be executed.

“On the contrary, they want to be heard,” she says.

“Some criminals I interviewed told me: ‘I’m really very glad. I said so many things in my heart to you at this time. In prison, there was never a person I was willing to talk to about past events.'”

An article in The Independent further describing the program mentions that some episodes previously available online have disappeared, and suggests that the BBC coverage may result in the show’s cancellation:

There were question marks yesterday over the future of one of China’s most popular television shows, “Interviews Before Execution”, in which death row prisoners are interviewed shortly before their execution, after its presenter was the subject of a BBC documentary.

The aim of the show, which has been broadcast by Legal TV channel for the past five years and is anchored by Yu Ding, is to highlight the deterrent effect of the death sentence by showing prisoners, sometimes minutes before they are shot or killed by lethal injection.

However, the show may have become the victim of its own success after international TV stations, including the BBC, made documentaries about the programme.

[...]There was confusion last night about the future of the show. News reports yesterday that suggested it was being cancelled because of “internal problems” were denied by officials at Legal TV.

NBC News’ Behind the Wall provides some translated dialogue, and describes the controversy surrounding the show in China. The article also suggests that rumors of the show’s cancellation may not be reliable:

Ding was particularly blunt with one unrepentant interviewee, saying: “I’m glad you got caught. You are a scumbag.” One episode featured a man yelping, “I’m sorry,” and kneeling down on the ground hours before his execution. In another, right before his execution a convict asked her: “Can I shake hands with you?”

[...]“Many people say I’m an angel and devil. I never thought myself as an angel, because it’s work that puts me into contact with these people. I see myself more as a witness,” Ding told the BBC in their 50-minute-long documentary.

[...] A BBC report on Monday claimed the show was taken off the air by Henan TV last Friday. When NBC News reached Henan Legal Channel and asked about it, we were told that was not the case.

The temporary “disappearance” of the show is apparently only making room for a new show, and “Interview before Execution” will come back on air in about six weeks.

However, on the channel’s official website, no links to Ding Yu’s program can be found, while information about other shows is available.

March 14, 2012 3:52 PM
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Categories: Law, Society