NEW YORK (AP) -- In its second-season opener, "The IFC Media Project" raises some interesting issues:
— Are Americans really better off with the Al-Jazeera English news network banned from almost every U.S. cable system?
— In the five-day war between Russia and Georgia, was Russia the automatic bad guy and Georgia the clear good guy, or did it just seem that way thanks to how the war was covered?
— What's up with those pirates in Africa?
Arriving last November with a round of brisk, sharp-witted scrutiny of news and the media industry, "The IFC Media Project" is back with five more editions on the IFC network, airing Sundays during May at 11 p.m. EDT.
Hip-but-not-too-h ip journalist Gideon Yago returns as host.
"How much of a good clean look at the rest of the world are we getting through American journalism — and, frankly, how much do we really want?" he poses at the top of this week's show.
The episode finds evidence that American consumers of news (and the journalists who serve them) have a taste for certain U.S.-centric story lines, and prefer not to be troubled with other versions of world events.
Or would they watch if they could?
Former Al-Jazeera producer Robb Wood takes a look at efforts to stamp out the English-language spinoff of Arab-owned Al-Jazeera. After 2 1/2 years, it's available from only one commercial U.S. cable provider (Buckeye Cable in Ohio) and the municipal cable system in Burlington, Vt.
Is Al-Jazeera English really a "global terrorist propaganda network"? Those are the words of Accuracy in Media's Cliff Kincaid. He's a leader in the campaign to shield U.S. viewers from seeing for themselves.
Also on the program, a young New York journalist visits her family's Russian homeland in the aftermath of the clash with Georgia last year. She uncovers a different story than the Cold War Redux she saw depicted on U.S. news outlets. And she interviews a Belgium-based publicist hired by Georgia's government to help facilitate that pro-Georgia coverage.
Yet another segment seems ripped from the headlines, despite having been conceived months ago. A frazzled cartoon character, the News Junkie, ruminates on how U.S. media oversimplify and underreport Africa, summing it up with broad-brush topics such as famine, revolutionaries, elephants, diamonds, Nelson Mandela and "pirates who like highjacking ships for no reason."
Or is there a reason?
The 3-minute piece may have unintended timeliness, but it was meant "just to remind people there might be something more there to think about," says Yago.
Yago, 31, is a past producer and correspondent for MTV News and CBS News. He has written for various publications and reported for public radio's "This American Life."
He joined "The IFC Media Project" feeling "burned out on my experiences with TV news," he says, and "by the number of people who had given up on the potential for journalism to speak truth to power and effect change."
Those ideals seem baked into the "Media Project." It emerged from a desire by creator and executive producer Meghan O'Hara for a weekly magazine to explore gaps between "the media and what they tell you — and what's really happening."
Until this plunge into series TV, O'Hara had focused chiefly on documentaries. Her credits include a longtime collaboration with Michael Moore on his features "Sicko," "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Bowling for Columbine." She also was a producer of Barbara Kopple's film about the Dixie Chicks, "Shut Up & Sing."
Future editions of the "Media Project" will address journalistic ethics, and the media's ulterior agendas as they go about covering business and politics. The program on "Economics and News" examines the state of news coverage at a time when media outlets are in fiscal distress. The season's final half-hour looks at government influence on the media.
And then? With any luck, "The IFC Media Project" will just be warming up, with many more seasons to come. That's what O'Hara is hoping.
"There's so much fodder, there's so much there," she marvels. "And even if we don't have all the answers, we want to raise enough questions so that people will say, 'I'm going to look into this! I'm going to pay more attention.'"
IFC is a subsidiary of Rainbow Media Holdings LLC.
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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org
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