Denis Handlin’s Honorary Award Is Revoked Following Explosive Documentary

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BRISBANE, Australia — Denis Handlin has been stripped of one honorary award, and Australia’s two highest-profile industry associations spoke-out just hours after an explosive investigation into Sony Music’s former chief went to air on national TV.

On Monday night (Oct. 11), the Australian Broadcasting Corporation premiered the 47-minute documentary Facing the Music: The Sony Music Scandal, which lifted the lid on the “culture of fear, harassment and bullying” in a workplace Handlin led for 37 years.

The fallout has been swift. Trade body Q Music on Tuesday (Oct. 12) revoked the honorary award presented to Handlin at the 2020 Queensland Music Awards, in his hometown Brisbane.

“Following ongoing reports of systemic bullying, discrimination, and misconduct under Handlin’s leadership at Sony Music Entertainment,” reads a statement from Kris Stewart, CEO of QMusic, the organization “could not let this acknowledgement and celebration of Handlin’s career stand.”

Those reports have been mounting-up in recent months, and reached a crescendo with the ABC’s Four Corners investigation, for which journalist Grace Tobin spoke with more than 100 current and ex-Sony Music employees as part of the broadcaster’s probe into bullying, discrimination and misconduct at the music giant.

The report, notes QMusic’s Stewart, “laid bare the undeniable fact that the culture under Denis Handlin’s leadership at Sony came at significant human cost.” He continued, “toxic workplaces, be they in the office, boardroom, on stage or behind, have no future in Australian music. We cannot, and should not accept nor celebrate this kind of culture. The future of music must be one that is safe, supportive, and equitable for all.”

Now, pressure is mounting on other organizations to follow suit.

Handlin accumulated a vast collection of prestigious honors in a 51-year-long career with Sony Music, which abruptly ended June 21.

Over time, Handlin received the Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music’ (2009), presented each year at the APRA Music Awards; the ARIA Icon award (2014); and he has twice been recognized by the Queen — as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2005 and the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2017.

On Tuesday, ARIA and APRA AMCOS responded to the ABC’s exposé. “Last night’s program was distressing and disheartening viewing,” reads a statement from the APRA AMCOS. The PRO “wants to be part of a music industry that upholds a high level of professional respect, conduct and integrity, and does not condone any form of discrimination, harassment or bullying,” the statement continues. “We recognize and accept there’s still much work to do in this space.”

APRA AMCOS also reiterated its commitment to an Equity Action Plan, with the organization currently undertaking a review of its Sexual Harassment & Harm Prevention Framework to ensure all parties involved “respect others, act lawfully, safely and responsibly.” That framework extends to award recipients.

Allegations such as those made in the documentary, the statement continues, “are being considered seriously as part of this review.”

Separately, ARIA, for which Handlin served as chairman of the board over two separate stints, issued its own brief statement.

“No one should feel unsafe, harassed, discriminated against, or bullied in the workplace,” it reads. “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.”

Neither statement addressed the former Sony Music ANZ chairman and CEO by name.

Earlier this year, ARIA and its recently-appointed CEO, Annabelle Herd, who became the trade body’s first female chief executive in February, invited more than 30 industry professionals to an “initial conversation” on sexual harm, harassment and systemic discrimination. From it, a working group was formed to tap experts in sexual harm and establish a national consultation strategy.

The momentum for change in these parts has gathered pace following investigative reports published in a string of outlets, including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, The Brag Media, NZ’s Stuff, Schwartz Media’s podcast series Everybody Knows and the Instagram page Beneath The Glass Ceiling, and by the ongoing work of whistleblowers and advocates such as indie artist Jaguar Jonze (real name Deena Lynch).

The spark was lit, and, in recent months, the domestic arms of Sony Music and Universal Music launched investigations into their respective corporate cultures, leading to the termination of several music industry figures, including Tony Glover, a veteran Sony Music executive who appeared in the Four Corners documentary.

Sony Music’s investigation remains ongoing, sources tell Billboard.

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