International publicity benches death row show

The fate of one of China’s most popular reality shows, “Interviews Before Execution,” where death row prisoners talk shortly before their sentence is carried out, hangs in the balance.

Authorities are uncomfortable with increased international attention the skein is drawing.

The show, aired for five years by pubcaster Legal TV and anchored by Yu Ding, aims to highlight the deterrent effect of the death sentence.

“Interviews Before Execution” screens to millions in Henan, China’s most populous province, every Saturday night but is not broadcast nationwide, although episodes are available online.

However, it has gained wider publicity after PBS Distribution and the BBC partnered on a documentary about the show, “Dead Men Talking,” by helmer-scribe Robin Newell, which has done the fest rounds and aired Monday on the BBC.

There have been local reports that the show has been cancelled because of “internal problems,” although a rep at Legal TV denied this.

Yu has interviewed more than 200 men and women on the show accused of one of the 55 crimes that carry the death penalty. She does not believe it is exploitative.

“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 said in an interview with the BBC. “Some 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.’ ”

San Francisco-based human rights group Dui Hua estimates that China executed 4,000 people last year, half the 2006 number, but still more than any other country.

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