If you see the murdered, the raped, the bereaved on your screen, what is the moral responsibility engendered by this form of witness? Michael Ignatieff elegantly articulated a widely held view, that "television has become the principal mediation between the sufferings of strangers and the consciences of those in the world's few remaining zones of safety ... it has become the means ... by which we shoulder each other's fate."
But by knowing about terrible suffering all over the world, in what sense can you "shoulder" all those fates? Isn't it a sort of self-aggrandisement to claim that the viewer sitting on the sofa at home in the UK "shouldered the fate" of the tragic mothers of Beslan or Sri Lanka? "My brother's keeper" is a crucial ideal, but how do we translate it for an age of global information flows?
There's no simple answer, of course.
We used to have cable tv, which I found very useful at times of international political drama - I could switch on BBC World. However, during the 2003 war in Iraq, I switched off. I didn't want to see it. I'd done what I could to prevent it, now I could do nothing to change what was happening; there was little purpose served in viewing those images. We moved house and did not take cable with us.
Reading is different, although reading can be voyeuristic too, of course. These days I get most of my news from the Web, online newspapers and news services, though I continue to watch the ABC's 7pm television news bulletin most nights, partly out of curiosity about how they will present the main issues of the day.
In the past few years, I've become more and more unwilling to be manipulated by and made subject to the pathological media. Yesterday I caught some of the Comedy Channel (on the tv in our lunchroom at work) - an American program in which two real people had to act out a script (presumably for some reward) - this one involved a young handsome black man having to seduce an old (70-ish) white woman. He did this with aplomb. The studio audience was hysterical with laughter. Why was this funny? It was such nasty humour. I hated overhearing it.
That's the other side of the coin - flick the remote and find images of tsunami desolation or of the kidnapped and tortured in Iraq, flick again and get a glimpse into the sick heart of our culture.