TV personality Don Burke who hosted the TV gardening show, Burke’s Backyard has been accused of sexual harassment and bullying allegations.
According to news.com.au, more than 50 people made serious allegations about the presenter, with three former Channel 9 executives giving some support to the story.
Burke has issued a vigorous denial of the allegations, which he says came about because he was a perfectionist in his work and some people held grudges. It has raised serious questions about why the network did not act on the complaints at the time.
“It shocks me that Don Burke was on the nine network. #boysclub,” tweeted Nadja Mattata.
“Okay so Don Burke is clearly absolutely terrible, but Channel 9’s management are almost worse,” said J.R. “Not one willing to take responsibility for failing to do anything about it despite SO many complaints.”
The Today Show this morning reported the allegations as “breaking news”, but viewers asked why it was just coming out now, when a number of former executives have said they were already aware of allegations around his behaviour.
“A statement from the Nine Network says the network can’t comment on how matters were dealt with in the past and says these allegations are serious and would not be tolerated at the network today,” The Today Show reported.
Former Burke’s Backyard producer Bridget Ninness told ABC/Fairfax she complained to then-head of lifestyle programming Peter Meakin after the gardening guru allegedly told her he would “rip your f***ing head off, and s**t down your throat”.
Mr Meakin told the ABC he could not remember the specific incident but always “thought very highly” of Ms Ninness. Ms Ninness said that years later, when Burke referred to a young researcher as a “dumb sl*t”, she stood up for the woman and was demoted. She said she decided to take legal action but then-CEO David Leckie told her: “Think seriously about that, Bridget. Don is a major money earner for this network. We wouldn’t want to crush you.”
Ms Ninness reached a settlement with Burke’s production company in 1997.
The former Nine boss said the network received complaints but was never asked to take action. “Through all this period, while all this was bubbling along, I was never challenged by anyone at Nine to say, ‘You’ve got to stop this’ — as in him,” said Mr Leckie.
But he also told ABC/Fairfax: “I’ve been trying to think of Harvey Weinstein-type people, and the only one I can ever come up with is Burke.
“He’s a horrible, horrible, horrible man. He’s a dreadful, dreadful piece of work … he was a really dirty old man.”
“Don Burke was a disgrace because of his behaviour internally and externally. This precluded him from ever becoming a major star,” he said.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said in a statement on Facebook: “If this was so well known why did Channel 9 allow it to go on?
“According to reports published today, the top management at Channel 9 were aware for years of these allegations.