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TV presenter Don Burke accused of sexual harassment spanning decades

TV presenter Don Burke sexually harassed a string of female colleagues throughout his career, a joint investigation by Fairfax Media and the ABC has alleged.

Australia’s entertainment industry has been anticipating a series of revelations about predatory behaviour by powerful figures since the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted in the US.

Allegations about Burke’s behaviour are the first to be published since campaigners began to work on a dossier of such conduct by different individuals. Women In Media’s Tracey Spicer told the ABC she has heard from 470 people since calling for people’s stories.

Burke denies the allegations.

The report includes former TV researchers who claim Burke repeatedly touched their breasts and attempted to remove their clothing while travelling for assignments. Another claimed he showed her an explicit video.

Several former Nine bosses spoke on record as part of the investigation, including Sam Chisholm, who ran Nine during the 1980s Kerry Packer era. “Don Burke was a disgrace because of his behaviour internally and externally,” Chrisholm told Fairfax Media.

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Peter Meakin, Nine’s former director for news and current affairs, described how if anyone fell short of the mark, Burke would “excoriate” them, describing him as “unforgiving”.

Despite having heard “gossip” about Burke, Meakin claims he never received any official complaints.

Burke’s Backyard was a ratings winner for Nine from the late 1980s until it was axed in 2004. The show made Burke one of the highest-paid figures in Australian entertainment, earning $8.5 million in 2003, according to the BRW Top 50 Entertainers list.

In response allegations of rape and sexual assault by American TV producer Harvey Weinstein,  Spicer launched an investigation into the Australian media industry, tweeting in October that she was digging into “two long-term offenders in our media industry”.

“The name that kept popping up again and again and again was Don Burke,” Spicer told the ABC. “In the case of Channel Nine, this protection racket went to the very top.”

Spicer told Mumbrella this morning that she was unable to give interviews today. The ABC’s investigation will air on news program 7.30 this evening.

Denying the allegations, Burke said in a statement: “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.

“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.

“This was evidenced by me deliberately choosing many women to be regular presenters on this program who were there because they were the very best in their field,” he said.

He added that these women “were not the typical media females aged under 30 and with Barbie-Doll figures”.

A Nine spokesperson told Mumbrella: “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.

“Nine has zero tolerance of sexual harassment and workplace bullying and no employee should be subjected to this kind of behaviour. Everyone is entitled to come to work confident that our workplace is safe, free from harassment and unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with effectively.

“Nine has robust policies and procedures for dealing with complaints and to support staff in such circumstances.”

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