The Power of Personality

09 Jan 2024

The defining mantra of the British justice system has historically been, ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but are we in danger of this being replaced by, ‘as seen on TV’?

With social media being an instant barometer of public opinion and an essential battleground in political debate, what we see, hear and learn about through the media is carrying more weight in the corridors of power than ever before.

It is not new news that questions have been circulating around the accuracy and fallibility of the Horizon computer system used by The Post Office to oversee accounts. However, after two decades of injustice, it appears that a TV dramatisation of the story might finally bring about the necessary pressure to see appropriate action taken.

ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office has been a hugely popular four-part series, first screened over the Christmas holiday season. Based on the true story of hundreds of subpostmasters who were prosecuted for fraud and theft as a result of inaccurate accounting that was actually caused by glitches in the Horizon computer system, this tragic tale has suddenly had the full glare of the public spotlight.

Alan Bates, one of the first sub postmasters to be impacted by the errors created by Horizon and the lead campaigner of The Justice For Subpostmaster Alliance group, has spent the last 20 years seeking publicity for his plight and that of many other subpostmasters.

While his campaign has been supported by MPs, had countless column inches dedicated to it in the press and across the media and even a Panorama documentary sharing the controversies of this injustice and the way people have been treated by The Post Office, countless cases remain unresolved.

So why the sudden shift in gear? Why have the PM and leaders of the main political parties felt compelled to pledge their support for the swift implementation of justice?

For me, it is quite simply the power of human stories. At the centre of the TV series is a truly heart-wrenching portrayal of the personal stories behind a number of the individuals involved who found their lives devastated. As well as financial ruin and the loss of reputation, families were shaken to the core by stress, depression, anxiety and even suicide resulting from the desperate feeling of being falsely accused and being failed by the justice system.

What it does highlight is the importance of adding personality to your PR and messaging, particular as a business or organisation looking to engage with new audiences. Indeed, it will take The Post Office a long time to recover its reputation and to reconvince customers that at corporate level it values compassion and transparency in the way it operates.