The chief executive of Channel 4 singled out Michael Winner's True Crimes programme made for ITV by LWT for particular criticism. It 'uses real crime purely for entertainment and for no other purpose . . . The boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred.
'Terrifying crimes reconstructed in graphic details are sensationally presented, in a glossy production, out of context, for maximum effect. And, sadly, unwittingly, maximum fear,' he said.
Mr Grade was speaking at a day-long conference called by the Voice of the Viewers and Listeners, a consumer group, entitled 'The fear of crime: the broadcaster's responsibilities'. It debated whether society, and women in particular, were being made too fearful of crime by sensational reporting lacking context, and the concentration on rare and unusually violent incidents, such as serial murders.
Mr Grade, who chaired a Home Office study on the fear of crime in 1989, said that since the study the BBC had continued to screen Crimewatch and Crime Monthly, which seek to enlist the public's help in solving crimes, without answering the tough questions posed.
'Do they really need so many reconstructions in order to achieve this aim? Do the benefits claimed for reconstruction outweigh the inevitable cost in increased fear?'
He said it was possible to deal with crime without adding to fear. Channel 4 does not run reconstructions, although Mr Grade, when controller of the BBC in the Eighties, was responsible for Crimewatch.
Mr Grade was also highly critical of the way advertisers and manufacturers of mobile phones and other security products may exploit fears of attack or rape.
'This commercialisation of women's fears raises some difficult questions for broadcasters. We need to think carefully about the symbiotic relationship which may develop between sensational . . . media treatment of crime . . . and the advertisements in the commercial break.' He pointed to Norwich Union, which is sponsoring Central Television's programme, Crime Stalker.
Clare Mulholland, head of programmes at the Independent Television Commission, said recent incidents had led her to take more precautions, but that none had come from watching television.
She said she thought programmes such as True Crimes had a touch of voyeurism, but that there was no real danger of them fostering a fear of crime.
Television treatment of the James Bulger case was criticised yesterday by the Broadcasting Standards Council.
The BBC's Public Eye programme, which mounted a special report for BBC 1 at 9.30pm after the case ended, was reprimanded for sensationalism, relying heavily on dramatised reconstructions 'frequently inappropriate for a real crime so dreadful it had captured the nation's imagination'.
The BSC requires the BBC to broadcast its findings. The BBC says the programme was made sensitively and put the case in a rational perspective.
World in Action, made by Granada for ITV, was censured for using the actual tapes of interviews with the accused boys, which the BSC says further violated the privacy of the families, already riven with guilt and misery.