Aria revokes former Sony Music boss Denis Handlin’s icon award

Honour is second to be withdrawn in a week for one-time Australian music industry stalwart

The former Sony Music Australia boss Denis Handlin has been stripped of his Aria “icon” status – the second award to be revoked this week in the wake of allegations about a toxic workplace environment at Sony while he was chief executive.

The board of the Australian Recording Industry Association, the country’s peak recording industry body, voted to revoke Handlin’s 2014 icon award, one of the highest honours in the Australian music industry, on Friday.

The association did not detail the reasons why the award had been revoked, saying only in a statement: “The Board of ARIA has today resolved to withdraw the Aria award made to Denis Handlin in 2014.”

On Monday Aria posted the following statement on its website: “No one should feel unsafe, harassed, discriminated against, or bullied in the workplace. Aria will continue to work towards safety, inclusion and equality across the music industry including through the cultural change process that was started in May this year. We will listen to the voices that need to be heard and provide our wholehearted support every step of the way.”

Handlin chaired the Aria board until his sacking as the longstanding chief executive and chairman of Sony Music Australia on 21 June, the same day Guardian Australia published its investigation into complaints by former staff about a toxic workplace culture at Sony Australia, including bullying, intimidation, alcohol abuse and discrimination.

On Monday the ABC’s Four Corners program broadcast its own investigation into Handlin and Sony Music Australia.

Handlin’s legal representative, the Sydney solicitor John Churchill, told the Guardian on Tuesday that a formal letter of complaint had been sent to the ABC. He declined to provide details on the nature of the complaint.

A spokesperson for the ABC declined to comment.

The Four Corners program prompted the Queensland Music awards’ announcement on Tuesday that it was revoking the former Sony boss’s 2020 honorary award for services to the Australian music industry.

“The culture at Sony Music Australia during Denis Handlin’s tenure [has come] with significant human cost,” the QMusic statement said, authorised by its president, Natalie Strijland, and its chief executive, Kris Stewart.

“We cannot let QMusic’s acknowledgement and celebration of [Handlin’s] career stand. Toxic workplaces, be they in the office, boardroom, on stage or behind, have no future in Australian music.”

Guardian Australia requested comment from Handlin and his legal representatives about the revocation of the Aria and QMusic awards.

The Guardian understands that another public recognition honouring the man once described as one of the most powerful people in the Australian music industry may now be under a cloud.

In 2009 the Australian performing rights and copyright agency Apra Amcos awarded Handlin the Ted Albert award for outstanding services to Australian music.

On Tuesday Apra Amcos issued a statement describing the ABC Four Corners report as “distressing and disheartening viewing”.

“We are currently undertaking a review of our sexual harassment & harm prevention framework to ensure all parties involved with Apra Amcos – including award recipients – respect others, act lawfully, safely and responsibly,” the statement said. “Allegations such as those made in Four Corners last night are being considered seriously as part of this review.”

The Guardian understands the future of Handlin’s 2009 award will be decided at the next Apra Amcos board meeting.

None of the former Sony employees Guardian Australia spoke to as part of its investigation made any allegations of sexual harassment against Handlin himself, although they were critical of the workplace culture at the company while he was chief executive.

Handlin, who was the global recording company’s longest-serving employee until his departure, was chief executive of Australia’s most successful record label for 37 years and had been chairman since 1996.

In 2017 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia.

Sony Entertainment’s headquarters in New York has launched an investigation into workplace practices in the Australian arm of its operations.

In response to the Guardian investigation, Sony Music Entertainment in New York provided the following statement in June: “We take all allegations from our employees very seriously and investigate them vigorously. These claims only recently came to light and we are examining them expeditiously.

“Harassment, bullying and other inappropriate behaviour is not tolerated by Sony Music at any of our companies and we are committed to ensuring a safe and respectful workplace for our employees. Given our ongoing inquiries, we cannot comment further.”


Kelly Burke

The GuardianTramp

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