On March 9, 2012, Interviews Before Execution, shown on Henan province’s Legal Channel, aired its final episode. 

....The aim of Interviews Before Execution, said This World [a BBC-2 documentary series], was ‘to find cases that would serve as a warning to others. The slogan at the top of every programme called for human nature to awaken and “perceive the value of life”.’ During This World, Ding Yu speaks with four death row prisoners, asking why they committed their crimes, and urging them to apologise to the families of their victims. She acts as a confessor, as a surrogate to the victims.

As such, Ding Yu appears to push a somewhat saccharine morality, perhaps to appease the Chinese authorities and convince them that the show performs an important public function. However, presumably to keep ratings high, the programme also resembles a high-octane, sensationalist ‘True Crime’ series. 

....Ding’s innovative concept may not be to Western tastes, but she has captured the attention of millions with her programme. While her glamour and poise can’t hurt, it’s her intelligence and her ability to talk to the prisoners on a personal level that have rendered her a star.

Many parts of the show are undoubtedly extreme, and to some, distasteful – for instance, one scene takes place at the condemned person’s final meeting with their relatives. However, the core concept of the programme essentially stems from the principle of restorative justice, increasingly encouraged in Western society – something that This World fails to explore.

With Ding acting as a mediator, Interviews Before Execution brought the concept of restorative justice – where victims confront criminals to gain answers and restore a sense of safety – to its logical conclusion. The method has also been proven effective in affording criminals a sense of responsibility, and preventing repeat offending.

And though Western viewers may find her reporting style uncomfortable, she has undoubtedly used the power of the media to try and ensure justice is done. In a country which allegedly executes thousands of people a year, Ding steps in to mediate. In two of the four cases covered in last night’s programme, the offenders have their death sentences suspended, in part because they apologised to victims during their interview. It seems that Ding and her production team were – albeit in a bizarre fashion – making strides towards democracy. Perhaps, therefore, it’s a pity she has been taken off air.

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