Australia’s Nine Network is under fire after claims its past management ignored sexual harassment complaints and failed to take action over TV star Don Burke.
Burke was the host of Nine’s hit TV gardening programme Burke’s Backyard, which ran throughout the 1980s and 1990s on Channel Nine.
Reports this week by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Fairfax Media have accused Burke of numerous accounts of indecent assault, sexual harassment and bullying during his nearly 17 years at the network.
The reports included claims by a number of people that Nine Network management turned a blind eye and failed to act on complaints from staff.
The reports also included comments from two former chief executives at Nine, who admitted some knowledge of Burke’s behaviour.
David Leckie, the former CEO of the Nine Network, told The Sydney Morning Herald, "I've been trying to think of Harvey Weinstein-type people [in Australia] and the only one I can ever come up with is Burke. He was a horrible, horrible man.”
While Leckie’s predecessor Sam Chisholm said, "Don Burke was a disgrace because of his behaviour internally and externally.”
However, Nine’s former head of news and current affairs Peter Meakin claimed he never received formal complaints about Burke but heard rumours second-hand.
The reports have left media commentators and the public questioning how much knowledge the Nine Network had about Burke’s behaviour, with The Australian and The Daily Mail both reporting the network could face class action by Burke’s accusers.
Nine has launched an internal investigation into the reports and released a statement which said, "The current management of Nine is simply not in a position to comment on these specific allegations or on how these sorts of matters may have been dealt with in the past.
"The allegations are extremely serious; the behaviour described is completely unacceptable and would not be tolerated at Nine today."
Burke has denied all allegations and claims he is the victim of a witch hunt.
Burke was one of the highest-paid figures in Australian entertainment and Burke’s Backyard was a top rating programme on Channel Nine which, during its ratings peak, drew in 1.6 million viewers a week. It was cancelled in 2004.