Viewers slam Don Burke’s ‘boys’ club’ at Nine
AUSSIES who woke this morning to shocking sexual harassment and bullying allegations against TV personality Don Burke are questioning why Channel 9 never took action.
The Burke's Backyard star denies the allegations relating to his behaviour in the 1980s and 1990s by a string of former colleagues, according to a joint ABC/Fairfax investigation.
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.
Nine told ABC/Fairfax it could find no records of complaints or payouts to any women in relation to Burke's behaviour, and added: "Burke's Backyard was a production of CTC Productions [his company] and they employed and managed all staff."
But Burke only took over production in 1991, and some of the allegations relate to earlier periods. The show was launched 1987.
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."
Mr Leckie said he did not recall her approaching him and there was "no way" he would have said something like that, and Nine never paid anyone to stay silent.
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."
Twitter user Nicolle posted: "David Leckie has said he's not surprised by allegations. So people knew? Another cover up to protect the male abuser."
Journalist Elmo Keep tweeted: "An ABC executive once told all the women in our production office, 'If you learn nothing else here, never work with Don Burke.' And they weren't joking."
Mr Leckie's predecessor Sam Chisholm described Burke as a "grub" and a "disgrace".
"Don Burke was a disgrace because of his behaviour internally and externally. This precluded him from ever becoming a major star," he said.
Another top Nine executive told the ABC "the public that have loved him should know the real Don Burke. If Harvey Weinstein's been outed, Don needs to be outed."
There is no suggestion Burke ever raped anyone.
Burke strongly denied comparisons to Weinstein. "I loathe the reported behaviour of Mr Weinstein and hope that the legal system deals with him in such a way as to prevent this happening again," he said.
Former producer Louise Langdon alleged Burke made regular lewd comments, persuaded her to watch a video of a woman having sex with a donkey and tried to lift up her top.
She said "there was an institutionalised acceptance of his behaviour and it was actually not just an acceptance, it was an institutionalised enabling".
One former entertainment journalist said Burke told her during interviews she would be a "demon f***", and that he had bought a horse for a female relative so he could watch her "rub her c*** on its back".
The reporter said she gave the taped interview to Channel Nine and received a bunch of flowers.
Wendy Dent, who met Burke when she was 21 and performing as a fairy at the Melbourne Garden Show in 1995, said the star knelt in front of her and asked for a wish. She alleged he then opened his eyes and said: "It didn't work. You've still got your clothes on."
He later offered her an audition, but allegedly said she would have to be topless.
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.
"Media outlets have a responsibility to stop this toxic culture of bullying and abuse."