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The power of TV drama

ITV’s recent drama, ‘Mr Bates vs The Post Office’, looks like achieving in a matter of months what newspaper and magazine journalists have been campaigning for, for over a decade.

By James Evelegh

The power of TV drama
Toby Jones played the part of Alan Bates in the ITV drama.

For those who believe in the efficacy of the written word, the events of the last fortnight have been slightly disconcerting.

Many thousands of words have been written about the sub-postmasters scandal over the past fifteen years.

Computer Weekly started reporting on it in 2008.

Private Eye has been publishing articles about it since September 2011 and in April 2020, pulled them together into a special report, ‘Justice Lost In The Post’.

In April 2015, the Daily Mail published a piece titled, ‘Decent lives destroyed by the Post Office: The monstrous injustice of scores of sub-postmasters driven to ruin or suicide when computers were really to blame’.

Journalist Nick Wallis (who Ray Snoddy interviewed for InPublishing in early 2022) has been campaigning on behalf of the sub-postmasters since 2010 and in 2021 wrote a book about it, ‘The Great Post Office Scandal’.

There has also been extensive coverage and reporting in other national and regional newspapers, including the Yorkshire Post.

And progress has been made, but it has been glacially slow.

All that changed with the airing last week of ITV’s ‘Mr Bates vs The Post Office’.

Since then, the subject has been an ever-present on the nightly news, ministers are asked about it wherever they show their face, there is talk of fast-tracking the existing inquiry and plans for an unprecedented blanket quashing of convictions before the year is out.

Over a million people signed a petition calling for former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE. She handed it back on Tuesday.

And yet… the TV drama, compelling television though it was, offered no new information. Everything was already in the public domain.

It shouldn’t have needed a popular TV programme to grease the wheels of justice.

While the intensified focus on the plight of the sub-postmasters is welcome and the sooner justice can be done the better, the events of the past fortnight must have left newspaper and magazine editors and journalists perplexed, scratching their heads, wondering why all their efforts over many years hadn’t had the same impact as four hours of prime time TV drama.

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