The Lawyers Are Here: Chinese State Media Popularize ‘Rule of Law’
You just bought a new house when you discover its locks have been changed and you’re denied access. Together with five colleagues, you’ve been working in a factory when your boss suddenly lays you off without explanation. You won a lawsuit but still have not received the settled compensation. What to do? What kind of rights do you have as a Chinese citizen?
These kinds of legal cases are at the center of a weekly Chinese TV show called The Lawyers Are Here (律师来了), which was first aired on CCTV’s Legal Channel in 2017 as a follow-up to the 2016 I am a Barrister (我是大律师).
The Lawyers Are Here introduces a different legal issue every week. The problems range from the aforementioned examples to people wanting custody over their child or a former patient fighting a negligent hospital for financial compensation.
Besides the TV host (Cao Xuanyi 曹煊一) and the people involved in the case, every 45-minute episode features various topic experts and four lawyers who offer their views and advice on the matter.
Each show begins with a short video explaining the story behind the case, after which the participants analyze the different legal aspects. One person provides further clarification at certain moments throughout the show by reading from Chinese legal texts.
Once everybody has a clear picture of the current situation, the show enters its most thrilling stage. Background music heightens the tension as the lawyers have to answer the most crucial question of the night: are they willing to take this case? It is then up to the party involved in the case to choose the lawyer they trust the most to win their case.
The Lawyers Are Here describes itself as “China’s first legal media public service platform.” It does not only offer help to the common people on the show who are caught up in legal issues, but it also informs viewers on how to handle certain problems, and educates people on China’s legal system.
One 2018 episode featured a female nurse from Beijing who was seeking help in getting divorced from her abusive husband. The woman only wanted a divorce if she could get full custody over her 15-month-old son. The lawyers on the show explained that if the woman could prove she suffered from abuse at the hands of her husband, she had a stronger case in getting full custody.
The woman, visibly upset, tells that she has never reported the abuse to the police, but that she did go to the hospital and took photos of her injuries. Although the lawyers on the show predicted that the pictures and hospital records would be sufficient evidence for the court, they also strongly advised all viewers to always report these incidents to the police.
Legal advice on the show goes beyond family-related issues. In another episode, a victim of a fraudulent car dealer was reprimanded by the lawyers for signing a contract before thoroughly reading it. “Never sign a contract before reading it completely”, the show warned, also telling viewers never to be pressured into signing a contract.
The Lawyers Are Here also often shows how the people featured on the show receive help from their lawyer after filming, and how a dispute is finally settled in court.
Popularizing Rule of Law
Every episode of The Lawyers Are Here starts with the slogan “The law is the rule, help is the intention” or “Helping the people through the rule of law” (“法为绳墨, 助为初心”).
By clearly reinforcing the message of ‘live by the law and justice will prevail,’ The Lawyers Are Here serves as a media tool to propagate the idea of ‘Governing China with Rule of Law,’ which is emphasized by the Party leadership.
“Rule of law” is one of the 14 principles of ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ and one of the 12 Core Socialist Values. This idea is clearly promoted throughout the show, along with other socialist values such as equality, justice, and integrity.
An important aspect of promoting the idea of a nation that is ruled by law is educating people on Chinese law, and, perhaps more importantly, creating more trust in legal institutions among the people.
Besides news media and other forms of propaganda, TV shows such as The Lawyers Are Here are effective tools for doing so. Not only does it present legal cases in a popular and modern way, even adding a game factor to it, it also personalizes it by letting the people tell their emotional stories – sometimes even moving the TV host to tears – and showing that the law can resolve complex family or business problems in an efficient matter.
On social media, people compliment the CCTV show for “bringing justice to ordinary people” and “standing up for the weak.”
“I hope we can have more programs such as these,” one Weibo commenter writes.
The Lawyers are Here is broadcasted every Saturday on 18:00 at CCTV12.
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