What many in TV still can’t understand is why the Nine Network and its A Current Affair program have been giving Don Burke occasional segments on the program, even though his reputation has preceded him for two decades — as comments by two former CEOs in David Leckie and Sam Chisholm in this morning’s Fairfax Media report attest.  

Fairfax Media reported this morning:

“However, the Nine Network refused to accept any responsibility for Burke’s behaviour. Questioned about claims that the network turned a blind eye to complaints and failed to take any action to protect their staff from Burke, Nine issued a statement saying: ‘Burke’s Backyard was a production of CTC Productions and they employed and managed all staff.’

“However, some of Burke’s worst behaviour allegedly occurred while the program was produced at Nine. In late 1991 Burke took over the production of his popular gardening program.”

Burke has strenuously denied the allegations levelled against him.

When I worked at Nine from 1986 to the start of 2004, Burke’s reputation was first as “good TV talent”. But, from the early 1990s, stories started circulating of some of his comments about women (of all ages). Women working at Nine, especially in the production and make-up areas were wary of being alone with Burke especially when he was at Nine for the taping of the final compilation of Burke’s Backyard (if it was a studio-based edition or had studio-based segments requiring his presence).

Burke was also a frequent guest on Midday, on the Today Show and on A Current Affair where he needed make up. Stories spread of some of his comments before and after interviews. “Inappropriate” would be the best description of some of the comments, if true.

Given that there is still the odd person working at Nine from the days of being controlled by the Packer family (there is at least one senior programming executive at Nine from the 1990s), it’s hard to understand how Nine allowed Burke to reappear on ACA.

Questions about Burke’s low-key return to Nine and ACA are best asked of the network’s CEO Hugh Marks and his predecessor David Gyngell (who remains a Nine board member and who was at Nine in the dying days of Burke’s Backyard).

Nine has had experience with alleged harassers. Back in the late 1990s, Chris Smith (now at 2GB radio station in Sydney) was working at A Current Affair and allegedly exposed himself to a number of female employees whose complaints were ignored by the program’s management but not by the network bosses. Smith was sacked. Smith later was involved in harassment allegations at 2GB, but was not dismissed. And the current sports host on Nine News in Sydney Cameron Williams was dumped by Fox Sports back in 2001 following sexual harassment claims.

As I wrote in Crikey in May 2005: “last night’s interview with Don Burke on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope ABC program was like the subject himself — infuriating, self absorbed, cringe-making and full of examples of a huge ego”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey