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Think Tank

Death Row Prisoners are the Stars of Chinese Hit TV Show

What is the Big Idea?

Minutes before they're executed, China's death row inmates get their 15 minutes in the spotlight on prime time television. Their public confessions are documented in a popular Chinese talk show, Interviews Before Execution, and now excerpts from the hit show will be featured in a documentary on the BBC, according to The Daily Mail

The prim and pretty host of the show, Ding Yu, has been interviewing death row inmates for the past five years and the show's success has brought her instant fame. Inmates who end up on the show typically confess their crimes in an interview with Yu - sometimes in the presence of the inmate's family members - apologize profusely and are then carried away to be executed.

What is the Significance?

The aim of Interviews Before Execution is to "inform and educate according to government policy." This goal is carried out by the show's judiciary committee that selects offenders with crimes that are suitable for "educating the public." They are careful to avoid cases that might involve political elements.

But now that clips from the show are in a BBC documentary, Chinese television executives are concerned about damage to the "country’s image overseas and lead to fresh accusations of human rights abuses," according to The Daily Mail report. Ding and her colleagues have been instructed to give limited access to the BBC and are forbidden to conduct interviews with the foreign press. 

Ding denies the exploitative nature of the show and insists that the inmates want to be heard.

"When I am face-to-face with them I feel sorry and regretful for them. But I don’t sympathize with them, for they should pay a heavy price for their wrongdoing. They deserve it."

What do you think? When death row inmates appear on national television, is the media creating opportunities for them to be heard? Or is the media exploiting these inmates?

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