The problem with hanging out dirty laundry

By Lin Jinghua ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-12-03 07:20:21

The problem with hanging out dirty laundry

[Photo by Liang Luwen/China Daily]

Many see the TV show as exploitation, but its presenter reckons she was performing a public service

Bai Wanqing got used to listening to the grievances of warring parties and trying to appease them, but it must now be her who feels like the aggrieved party after the authorities took her TV program off the air. Her crime? Fronting an episode of the show on Oct 19 and 20 that, according to an official notice, exerted a bad influence on the public by giving undue attention to the seamier side of human nature.

The formula for the program, New Old Uncle, is fairly simple: its producers gather members of a family or a group of people into a studio where they talk openly about disputes they are having. The central figure in the episode that so offended officialdom was a 22-year-old single mother in Shanghai who has given birth to three children to three different men over the past four years.

Viewers heard tales of extramarital affairs and alleged rapes. The woman and her three children live with her mother and grandmother. Her father, who has a family separate to the woman's mother, whom he never married, was said to have stopped supporting the family financially three years ago. The family of six live on the grandmother's pension.

When the woman was 17 she had a short relationship with a hairdresser in Fujian province to whom she became pregnant, but he abandoned her before she gave birth. She alleges that over the next two years she was raped twice, first by a taxi driver and then by two other men, and as a result gave birth to two more children.

"Why didn't you go to the police?" Bai, the presenter, demanded of the woman at one point. In fact the mother and grandmother so frustrated Bai that she angrily interrupted the mother and the grandmother several times as they talked during the two-hour show.

The mother and the grandmother said they thought that if they did as Bai suggested the police would not have taken the case seriously because the pair lacked firm evidence. They contacted the show's producers, they said, hoping they could get some help in obtaining a hukou (residency permit) for the three children.

As the family hung out its filthy laundry in public, huge swathes of the audience were obviously shocked, and there was widespread criticism of the program after the episode appeared on the internet. Some said it was in extremely poor taste, and that it was wrong to use someone's private misery to seek high ratings, and Bai was one of those in the firing line.

"I'm so glad Auntie Bai has finished her lessons," my younger cousin in Shanghai said sarcastically in a WeChat message. "I can now have dinner quietly without arguing with my mother about that TV program. I'm sick and tired of the show."

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