Do we have a moral duty to watch the news at times like this?
It was reported that more people in the US watched the latest episode of Friends than the CNN coverage of the bombing of Baghdad, while, on the same day, a White House spokesman refused to discuss whether or not George Bush had been watching the TV as the bombs fell.
The underlying assumption is that we should not turn away from the horrors of the war, especially the graphic and shocking ones we see on TV.
Despite the death of ITN journalist Terry Lloyd at the weekend, the TV news organizations seem to share this belief in their "duty", as shown by the continuing presence of many TV journalists on the front-line.
However, whatever the news organizations' commitment in terms of personnel and scheduling time, the truth is that most of us don't actually spend an awful lot more time watching the news.
Since last week, ITV has been showing the news at 9.00 and at 10.30, while the BBC has effectively transferred the News24 channel onto BBC2 (but with BBC1 presenters, such as Huw Edwards).
Presumably, most people will have watched some of the scenes, but overnight ratings from the weekend illustrate that total viewing to news programmes is just marginally higher than normal. Where news is replacing other programming, total viewing is generally less than normal.
There is, however, a startling difference in viewing to 24-hour multichannel news. Arguably, these are the news junkies who, in the previous Gulf war, came to rely upon CNN. Now, we have our own channels from the BBC, ITV and Sky respectively.
The viewers' choice out of these three is clearly Sky News. On Sunday, March 23, its total viewing was ten times greater than for the previous Sunday. Its audience is now twice that of BBC News 24 and virtually ten times that of ITV News.
The Sky 6pm news on Sunday was watched by more than one million people, a quarter the number of those watching BBC1 news at the same time. In this context, Sky has become the most trusted/accessible source of critical news for the digital audience.
Whatever your news provider of choice, TV news is the most common and accessible source of information for the majority of us and the most trusted.
What Trevor McDonald, John Simpson or Ben Brown tell us we are far more likely to take as fact than what we hear from the spokesman of the US or even UK Governments. This professionalism and impartiality is something to be valued.
In the US, Rupert Murdoch's news channel, Foxnews, has a virulently right-wing agenda. Whatever the faults of our own news organizations (fawning credulity when faced by men in combats being one) they fundamentally represent the best of British TV, valuing intelligence and impartiality above sensationalism and bias.
This article was first published on Media Week