For a normal TV anchor, the ratings come first. But Yu Jiaqing doesn't need to worry about building an audience. As an anchor for the TV station attached to Beijing's Bureau of Prisons, his audience of more than 10,000 prisoners has few other viewing options.
"Our audience rating is 100 percent. That's the last thing I have to worry about," Yu joked. For Yu, his biggest failure is when he fails to make his interviewees cry.
"Several criminals would show a contemptuous look even if they faced the death penalty. They were concealing their deep emotions. As long as they shed tears when responding to my questions, I knew I had their defenses down and they would tell me the truth from then on," the 58-year-old anchor told the Global Times, pushing his bottle-thick glasses up his nose.
The Beijing prison bureau attaches great importance to the rehabilitation of prisoners. It launched the first prison newspaper in 1987, Beijing Re-born. Prisoners were encouraged to publish articles in the paper.
As part of the rehabilitation process, the bureau launched a TV station in October 2005, and began to broadcast in 14 prisons in Beijing. Eight prison policemen, including Yu, were recruited.
"By broadcasting the programs, we want to give the prisoners a channel to the outside world. Even though imprisoned, they have a thirst for information," said Zheng Zhaolin, director of the news center at the Bureau of Prisons.
Zheng said a major task for prisons is to reeducate and reform prisoners to make sure they live a clean life after being released.
Yu's interviewees include prison officials, prison guards and inmates. Handling with prisoners for more than two decades, Yu, a former journalist in Beijing Re-born Newspaper, said the TV programs mainly serve as a tool to help with the reform of the prisoners.
There are several popular programs, including a newspaper reading program hosted by Yu, as well as a dialogue with prison police explaining the criminal laws and regulations.
One of the most famous programs, Special Focus, focuses on convicts on death row and is aimed at scaring other prisoners straight.
"Hosting an engaging dialogue with convicts on the death row and hearing their last words can alarm other prisoners and they will consider whether they will repeat their crimes after returning to society," Yu told the Global Times.
Yu recalled an impressive case that aroused fierce discussions among the inmates.
Wang Lihua and two other accomplices were sentenced to death for kidnapping and gun possession in 2004. Yu succeeded in arranging a 15-minute interview with Wang before the execution.
Yu knew clearly the interviewee would be tough.
"It was difficult to ask him to tell the truth, as media reports described Wang as a villain who always had a scornful smile on his face, even when his death sentence was being read out," Yu said.
After doing a lot of homework, Yu found the death criminal had his soft spot.
"He had a very close relationship with his elder sister, and when I talked to him about her, the smile on his face suddenly disappeared and he began to shed tears. After that, he said he would never commit a crime if he had a second chance," Yu said.
"After watching the program, many prisoners began to ask each other 'If you have a change to start over, will you commit a crime again after you are released?'" said Zheng, the news center director.
In another program, prisoners could apply for an opportunity to see the changes in their former homes. TV crew members would visit, take videos of their homes and broadcast it in a program named Come Back Home.
"The program stirs the inmates' longing for their families, and inspires them to act well in prison," Zheng said.
Another program recording prison guards extending help to prisoners' families when they are in trouble is also popular.
"It can foster harmonious relationships between the guards and the prisoners. Prisoners can be more cooperative in the reform work after they knew what the guards have done for their sake," Zheng said.
Yu is a multi-tasker. He produces, writes, and anchors his own show. With no professional training, he remembers being so nervous the first time in front of the TV camera that he was bathed in sweat.
Yu's group, with eight members, has their own 60-square-meter studio and editing rooms in southern Beijing. They had tried several experiments in programming, and have launched a total of 13 different programs. Each two weeks, they record two to three programs.
Due to the lack of a broadcast network, the TV programs, each lasting for about an hour, have to be recorded on DVD ahead of time, and then mailed to each prison in Beijing each week.
Each Saturday, prisoners are organized to watch the programs.
"People can be depressed and desperate after being thrown into prison, and we wanted to give them some hope," Yu said.
He said they always chose topics that are related to criminals and beneficial in their rehabilitation.
Yu recently hosted a dialogue with a prison warden in Beijing, explaining the Criminal Procedure Law amendment that was adopted at the two sessions in early March.
"We try to serve the prisoners with more information related to them," Yu said.
The anchorman wears plain clothes instead of a uniform in most of the programs, save for the news program.
"We want to convey a solemn feeling by wearing the uniform when broadcasting news and we want the prisoners to feel more intimacy in other programs by wearing plain clothes," Yu said, adding that they often receive comments from prisoners.
Many prisons, including Qinghe Prison on the outskirts of Beijing, have also launched their own TV stations. The prison guards and prisoners work on the TV stations together.
"We encourage them to do lots of work to diversify their life in prison," Yu said.