TV Program on Law Airs Real-life Cases

December 4 has been designated by the central government as the Day for Promoting Law throughout the country. China Daily reporter Jin Bo examines the role of a leading national TV program in portraying new lifestyles created by a society that is changing into the rule of law.

A number of American TV shows take viewers into courtrooms to observe litigation proceedings directed by a galaxy of judges such as Joe Brown, Judith Sheindlin, Mills Lane and Joseph A. Wapner.

A leading Chinese TV program about law in China, "Law Today," by contrast, brings viewers into homes, hospitals, offices or villages.

Viewers of "Jinri Shuofa," a 15-minute program in Chinese on Channel One of the Chinese Central Television Station (CCTV) at 12:40 pm hear true stories of ordinary people whose legal problems have to be explained, relieved or solved according to law.

Many of the cases are heart-breaking or shocking, and the program's willingness to focus on social concerns, as well as its sharp observations and insightful analysis have boosted its viewership rating among CCTV programs since its debut in 1999.

The program often triggers viewers to begin their own debates on such controversial issues as marriage problems involving a third party.

One of the leading hosts of the program, Sa Beining, who is still a postgraduate student from the Law School of Peking University, won the national championship for competition among TV hosts this year.

The legal cases featured on "Law Today" differ little from the litigation situations portrayed in American courtroom TV shows.

The cases include civil and criminal cases involving marriage, inheritance, adoption, environmental and natural resources protection, insurance, advertisements, consumer rights, protection of minors, unfair competition and trademark and contract violations.

But, unlike US courtroom TV programs offering a lot of legal advice from prominent experts in well-known cases, "Law Today" chronicles everyday situations that could happen to anyone. Its message hits home with many Chinese who realize they can no longer shy away from the laws and legal system as their ancestors did for thousands of years.

In one case, "Law Today" showed that people may break the law without realizing it. A 17-year-old rural boy in East China's Jiangsu Province joined other villagers in chasing a thief into a river near his village.

Following other villagers, the boy threw stones at the defenceless thief in the water. Hit by the boy's stone, the thief stumbled and drowned in the river. No one in the village could understand that in so doing, the teenager had broken the law. The boy was brought to court with the charge of manslaughter.

Digging deeper

While offering legal advice by citing relevant Chinese laws, the program hosts also explore situations arising from loopholes in current laws and legally-binding government regulations that cannot be legally resolved.

For instance, one "Law Today" program last week documented a criminal case in which Peng Shikuan, who suffered from leukaemia, killed Wang Wanlin, a doctor working in a hospital affiliated with the Hunan College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in the hospital's courtyard.

Peng was convicted of murder in August.

The murderer, on the one hand, was an enraged leukaemia patient who had seen his fellow patients in the same ward die while his own disease worsened. He took the law into his own hands so that "Wang would no longer harm other people," Peng's wife, Deng Haiyu, told CCTV.

On the other hand, Wang had promised to cure his patients with bone-marrow transplant medicines and instruments he had invented and got patented . None of the dozen or so patients treated by Wang had shown improvement, according to the "Law Today" report.

During the investigation, the program hosts discovered that health and medical authorities failed to prevent Wang from carrying out his experimental procedures on patients using his patented medicines and instruments. Moreover, no medical laws or regulations legalized Wang's practices, and he had never obtained official approval to use his patented instruments, which is required by current legally-binding regulations on the use of medicine and medical instruments.

Public awareness

Although "Law Today" is not the first TV law show, its success has encouraged similar law programs. Some 2,000 provincial and city level TV stations now feature these programs and all have become popular.

He Shuwen, the executive producer of "Law Today," said the programs about the law are becoming more and more popular because they meet the public's strong demand for more knowledge about the law.

The thirst for legal knowledge has been generated by on-going social reforms and restructuring as well as the country's modernization drive to build a society based on the rule of law.

"While China's extraordinary economic performance attracts the most attention, such lifestyle changes might have been neglected," said Chen Guangzhong, Deputy Chairman of the China Law Society.

"As the public's awareness of law increases, such demand is becoming stronger," said He Shuwen, who joined the TV program's staff as a reporter in 1999.

He said that she was often surprised at the public's high awareness of the use of law to protect themselves.

Five years ago, He, as a reporter, frequently ran into cases which occurred as a result of people's ignorance of the law.

Today, He and her colleagues meet an increasing number of people who go to court when their rights are violated.

She cited the case of Guo Xunfa, who traveled from his home village in Chongqing to Shenzhen to make money working at a plastics factory.

Unfortunately, he was injured at work and lost his right arm. Worse, he was fired without a single penny in compensation.

Guo has decided not only to sue the factory boss for not abiding by the labor law but also to take the local labor safety authority to court for its negligence and failure in enforcing the national labor safety regulations.

The success of "Law Today" has also brought some unexpected troubles to He Shuwen and her colleagues.

Many people who claim they have suffered from unfair treatment frequently seek them out for help. In their eyes, the TV program is the embodiment of justice.

"It is a task too heavy for us to shoulder," she said in a serious manner.

"Our mission is to produce TV programs offering good legal advice instead of upholding justice like a judge," she said.

She recalled once going to a village in Central China's Hunan Province to interview a girl who had become blind after her eyes were damaged by a poor quality firecracker.

When the girl's mother learned that He was from CCTV, she suddenly went down on her knees to ask He for help.

Although He felt sympathetic, she was unable to help the woman's daughter regain her eyesight or to obtain legal compensation for her injuries.

Limited power

Chen Guangzhong said the public's high expectations on the media are not "a normal phenomenon."

However, "Sometimes people had tried all other ways but failed, and the media are often the last place they turn to for help," He Shuwen said.

Some victims have adopted rather extreme methods to solve disputes after local officials and courts passed the buck to each other.

"Most people appeal for justice to authorities when their legal rights are violated. However, the channels for the public are not always functioning properly," Chen said.

"Sometimes the appeals are not handled in time, and more serious, justice cannot always be guaranteed."

While campaigns to improve the public's awareness of law have been strongly promoted, some local officials at the grass-roots level have lagged behind.

Legal problems are expected to be solved along with the advancement of China's ongoing social reform and modernization process, Chen said.

"The TV programs still need to reach the people living in outlying and rural regions," said Liu Guiming, editor-in-chief of Chinese Lawyers' Magazine.

(China Daily December 4, 2001)

In This Series

Experts Call for End to Domestic Violence

Law to Be Improved

China to Draft Property Rights Law

Revision of Laws Gets Top Concern



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