ABC managing director David Anderson has described on-air comments by high-profile journalist Dr Norman Swan linking the deaths of Kimberley Kitching and Shane Warne to COVID-19 as “incorrect” and “in error”.

Facing a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, Anderson said Swan regretted his remarks about the late Labor senator and the cricketing great, who both died this year following heart attacks.

ABC managing director David Anderson answered questions about Swan during a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“Dr Swan’s comments were made at the end of a live interview and they were clearly, they were incorrect, they were in error,” Anderson told the Senate committee on communications.

“Dr Swan has apologised for that. Certainly, Dr Swan was counselled over the matter. He was spoken to about it and is very regretful that he made those comments.”

Swan was forced to apologise earlier this month after he telling an ABC News Breakfast audience it was “too much of a coincidence” both Warne and Kitching died of heart-related issues not long after contracting coronavirus. He later doubled down on that stance in an interview.

However, it was never reported that Kitching had contracted the virus before she died, and Swan accepted that she had not after a phone call with her widower Andrew Landeryou, who had texted Swan to complain.

Warne died of a heart attack in March, weeks after contracting COVID-19. While Swan acknowledged Warne had risk factors for heart disease, he said extra inflammation from COVID “could have tipped him over the edge”.

The ABC cautioned the coronavirus expert, saying the remarks breached editorial standards.

Liberal senator Sarah Henderson on Tuesday noted the ABC had released a statement saying Swan had apologised to Kitching’s family and asked if he had also apologised directly to Warne’s family.

Anderson said he understood Swan had offered to apologise to Warne’s family while in conversation with their representative, James Erskine, the leg-spinner’s former manager.

Labor senator Kimberley Kitching, who died of a heart attack in March.

“He offered to apologise directly to the family. Mr Erskine said that he would pass on that apology as he was speaking to them regularly,” Anderson said. “I know that that happened, but I don’t believe he’s spoken directly to Shane Warne’s family.”

Erskine had previously accused Swan of being “totally disrespectful” to the families of the dead.

Henderson also asked Anderson to investigate similar comments Swan made in an interview with the Daily Mail, and to provide the committee with any other findings against Swan’s reporting during the pandemic.

Anderson replied: “I’m not even sure that … anything that Dr Swan has published has been needed to be investigated, but I will certainly confirm back with the committee on notice.”

He said Swan was a highly regarded journalist for the ABC, whose coverage of the pandemic was outstanding.

“I think that while some people might throw some criticism his way, I think through what has been a very complex time, people have turned to Dr Swan for context and analysis for what is happening at that particular moment in time,” Anderson said.

Asked to confirm Swan was not engaged by the ABC as a practising doctor or specialist, Anderson replied, “I can provide the nature of that engagement on notice to you. But he’s engaged as a journalist, yes.”

with Michael Koziol

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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