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Head of content runs gauntlet of anger on 'terrorist' case

The Citizen in Gloucester was among the media criticised at a heated public debate following the recent arrest of a terrorism suspect in the area.

Head of content Matt Holmes faced the public at a meeting so popular that the doors had to be closed before everyone outside had been admitted.

The feeling of the crowd was that Islam should not be seen to be tainted by the arrest of a single Muslim.

And although the media came under attack from the floor, Matt explained how the media works and why The Citizen’s coverage developed the way it did – and won over many of the people there.

National newspapers were branded “racist”, while The Citizen was slammed for “letting the community down” with headlines about suicide bombers. The meeting also attacked Home Secretary David Blunkett for his comments following the arrest.

Matt told the meeting: “We have bent over backwards to make sure we have covered this fairly.”

And he explained that the story was important in a culturally diverse city such as Gloucester – and was always going to get space devoted to it, along with attention-grabbing headlines. The paper has also been clear about its position over the suspect – Qari Hafiz Sajid Badat – who is innocent until proven guilty.

As head of content Matt is the first port of call for people who have any comment on the content of the paper, but he also has close links with the Muslim community in Gloucester, both through his work and home life.

Matt said: “I was not surprised by the reaction I received at the meeting.

“Following the arrest of Badat the area was besieged with national, regional and local journalists. It would be a shock for any community but for the Muslim community – a community which has lived peacefully in Gloucester for the past 40 years – the shock was perhaps even greater.

“The entire Muslim community in Gloucester feels as though it has been placed under suspicion by the arrest of one of its members and this was reflected in the reaction I received at the meeting.

“Yes, there was heckling, booing and jeers but that was only from a small section of the people at the meeting. The majority of people at the meeting were there to ask questions about how the media works and I was pleased to stand up and represent The Citizen.”

He said that during his ten years as a journalist he had dealt with many people who felt they had not been represented fairly. The public meeting – organised by the police and local council – was simply on a larger scale and in an open forum.

Matt added: “I would do it again tomorrow if asked because this is such an important story for Gloucester.

“And even though I faced some tough questions on the panel many members of the community came to me after the meeting to shake my hand and thank The Citizen for coming along to listen to the community’s concerns.”

Editor Ian Mean also wrote an open letter to the Muslim community which Matt distributed at the meeting.

Yesterday The Citizen carried an unabridged statement from the Muslim community about the case in full on page two, and a letter critical of the paper’s coverage so far on page three. It also covered the meeting Matt went to.

The paper’s website thisisgloucestershire is setting up a link to a new Muslim website carrying full details of the case.

Do you have a story about the regional press? Ring 0116 227 3122/3121, or
e-mail pastill@nep.co.uk