Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rule No. 1: Do No Harm

When I reflect on the year that has passed since Sept. 11, 2001, two images come immediately to mind. The first I saw only on television: clouds of smoke and flame engulfing the World Trade Center. The second I saw live, and much more recently: the smoke screen stretching for hundreds of kilometers around Moscow, through which I passed on the train as I returned from vacation.

Next the memory casts up all sorts of apocalyptic recollections: war and terrorism in Chechnya, Israel, Afghanistan; hideous plane crashes; unprecedented solar flares; endless fires and floods; some kind of asteroid headed our way; and, finally, shockwaves running through that bedrock of Russian life, the U.S. economy.

These images then run together with earlier psychological wounds: the Kursk in 2000, the apartment building bombings in Moscow and other cities in 1999.

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

On the other hand, I realize that for me personally this has been one of the most successful periods of recent years (knock on wood). For that reason I find it remarkable that I now feel more confused and dismayed that I ever did back in leaner times.

This feeling -- shared, I believe, by many people all over the world -- is the result of watching television.

On Sept. 11, 2001, television showed the world that unbelievable, unthinkable and impossible evil is in fact more than possible. We saw it with our own eyes. Against the background of this shock, the many various, unconnected cataclysms occurring all over the world come together in a picture of growing global chaos -- if only because they are shown nearly every day on television. On top of that, more and more people are confronted with first-hand experience of the reality of the unthinkable: affluent Germany is underwater, comfortable Moscow is suffocating.

Before Sept. 11, our global village looked just like any other village. Now it looks like an accursed place that it would be better to leave. But there's nowhere to go. This is the new era that began on Sept. 11, 2001.

As Marshall MacLuen said, the medium is the message. This means that television, which will remain the dominant means of communication for the foreseeable future, cannot exist without spectacles and images. And the best shots are always of something extraordinary. And after a couple more television seasons like the last one, we will witness the onset of a worldwide psychological disorder. Psychologically unstable people and nations in turn pose a greater risk to themselves and to others. Take the Jews and the Palestinians, for instance.

Broadcast journalists have come to understand the potential risks posed by their medium. In developed, democratic societies they have taken steps to minimize that danger -- not to dwell on the spectacle of bloody corpses, not to exploit the face of sorrow. Today many agree that the restraint shown by American television in its coverage of the Sept. 11 tragedy played a stabilizing role in society.

But this begs another question: To what extent are accepted ethical norms for coverage of local tragedies applicable to the coverage of cataclysm on a global scale? Simply put, what difference does it make if you show corpses or not when month after month the main story on the television news is by necessity some kind of catastrophe?

Worldwide television in the era of global catastrophes must come up with new ethical norms similar to the fundamental principle of the medical profession: First, do no harm.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (