Televised Confessions in China Raise Worries

At the Los Angeles Times, Julie Makinen reports on how the recent trend of televised confessions, from those accused but not yet convicted of a variety of crimes, impacts public opinion and the outcome of cases. In the last year, high-profile journalists and business people have given public confessions on the air, including blogger and investor Charles Xue and GlaxoSmithKline employee Liang Hong:

State-run TV often runs confessions from people accused of petty crimes such as robbery and prostitution. But in the last year, many more high-profile confessions have been broadcast. In a number of cases, people who have not even been formally charged with crimes have appeared on TV, admitting to breaking the law.

[…] In November, CCTV producer Wang Qinglei resigned and posted an open letter online criticizing the airing of the confession by investor Xue and lamenting the heavy hand of propaganda officials in the broadcaster’s programming.

“In the space of a year, we get upward of a thousand propaganda orders,” he wrote in the posting, which was quickly deleted by censors. “How many of these orders are issued in the national interest, and how many are issued to serve the political and economic interests of some individual, group or leader?”

China does not have a jury system, but Liu Xiaoyuan, the lawyer, said such broadcasts do have an effect on judges.

“The police want to guide the public opinion, and judges will feel a lot of pressure to render guilty verdicts,” Liu said. “If they give a not-guilty verdict, it’s difficult to face the public.”