How does the mass media cover issues important to Canadian Arabs and Muslims? Is it fair or are issues ignored?

“Guilty Until Proven Innocent” is a controversial documentary airing on OMNI television, Canada’s multicultural network, that explores whether the mainstream media gives balanced coverage towards matters of concern to Arabs and Muslims. It examines how perceptions of Arabs and Muslims are shaped by coverage of conflicts in the Middle East and Arab world.

“In light of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we felt there was a tremendous need to do a documentary that offered a different perspective on Arabs and Muslims that breaks with the terrorist stereotype,” explains Gaby Andraos, the Lebanese-born director of the documentary whose company, Andraos Media, produced the film. “The power of the media is so strong in shaping perceptions towards minorities we thought this deserved some investigation.”

“Guilty Until Proven Innocent” examines the issue of security certificates, an arcane legal tool used by Canada’s intelligence services in recent years to arrest and detain suspected Arab terrorists without actually having to show the detainees or their lawyers the evidence against them. A focal point of the documentary is the case of Mahmoud Jaballah, an Egyptian religious teacher, who spent seven years behind bars in Canadian prisons for being an alleged terrorist.

“Guilty Until Proven Innocent” also examines how media coverage of conflicts in the Middle East can shape popular perceptions towards Arabs and Muslims. In particular, the documentary uses as a case example the on-going Israeli-Palestinian dispute, exploring the roots of this conflict and how the Arab historical narrative is rarely touched upon in the media, as well as the unbalanced coverage of Palestinian fatalities compared with Israeli fatalities.

The documentary also examines the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in respect to death tolls caused by these conflicts. Finally, we touch upon media coverage of the Maher Arar case.

Some of the interview subjects include Mahmoud Jaballah, British foreign correspondent Robert Fisk, filmmaker Alexandre “Sasha” Trudeau, Monia Mazigh – wife of Maher Arar, Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, Lebanese diplomat and academic Clovis Maksoud, Toronto Star editorial writer Haroon Siddiqui, and human rights activist Matthew Behrens.