ABC, SMH accuse Don Burke of being a 'high-grade, twisted abuser’

Marea Burke and Don Burke pose at an event in 2014. Source: Getty

Two of Australia’s biggest media outlets have targeted one of the country’s best-loved TV personalities with shocking claims.

The Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC‘s 7.30 show have reported accusations of indecent assault, sexual harassment and bullying from more than 50 women with whom TV star Don Burke worked during the late 1980s and 1990s. 

The Fairfax Media/ABC joint investigation said it found that many of the people working behind the scenes with the Burke’s Backyard star claimed he was a “psychotic bully”, a “misogynist” and a “sexual predator”.

Burke has angrily denied the allegations and comparisons to Harvey Weinstein, the all-powerful Hollywood producer currently accused of multiple sexual assaults. Burke has reportedly called in top defamation lawyer Patrick George.

“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,” Burke said to the media outlets.

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“The bitter irony is that I have had a life-long opposition to sexism and misogyny. Burke’s Backyard was a lone bastion of anti-misogyny since its inception in 1987,” he said.

Bridget Ninness, a former producer on Burke’s Backyard, called him a “high-grade, twisted abuser” in the reports. Ninness pursued legal action against Burke for psychological abuse in the workplace, and eventually settled out of court with Burke’s company.

The former gardening star’s character was slammed by many of his former colleagues, including Nine executives, David Leckie, and his predecessor Sam Chisholm.

“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,” said Leckie, the former chief executive of the Nine Network. “He was a horrible, horrible man.”

Chisholm, meanwhile, described Burke as a “terrible grub”.

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Burke strongly denied the allegations put to him by an ABC reporter, responding via a statement issued by his lawyer this morning. He said, “I am deeply hurt and outraged at the false and defamatory claims in your correspondence. It is evident that these baseless claims concern statements from a few ex-employees of CTC Productions who bear grudges against me.”

“I also believe that this publication is opportunistic and intended to severely damage my reputation, by trying to link my alleged behaviour with the appalling behaviour of Harvey Weinstein, which has gained a lot of media traction,” Burke’s statement said.

“I loathe the reported behaviour of Mr Weinstein and hope that the legal system deals with hi in such a way as to prevent this happening again. The bitter irony is that I have had a life-long opposition to sexism and misogyny.”

Are you shocked at the allegations? What are your memories of Don Burke?