I think it was some time after the Asian tsunami, and when I realised that I was no longer too hard up for cash, that I made a decision. What I decided was that any time I saw a news report describing some disaster that killed or caused injury and distress to 1000s, but didn't actually affect me at all - like the Burma cyclone in the news at the moment - I would do one of two things:
if I felt compelled to give an actual donation or some sort of assistance, I would keep watching.
otherwise, I would just switch it off, and refuse to pay any attention to the media circus surrounding it.
It dawned on me that the other option - just sitting there saying "ooh, that's awful" - isn't helping anyone one bit, and is even a bit worse. If you're interested in a news event, but you're not interested in helping the victims, then you're only interested in their suffering. If you ignore it, the victims are still fucked, but at least you are depriving yourself of the twisted gratification of observing people far less fortunate than yourself but doing nothing about it.
I wonder if it's a throwback to a Christian upbringing.. this idea of prayer, and the belief that by praying for someone, by thinking of someone else consciously you can help them. Well I say that's nonsense. In most situations it's just a lame, hypocritical and socially acceptable excuse for doing nothing.