ARIA strips Denis Handlin of Icon Award following ‘Four Corners’ investigation

Handlin was chair of the ARIA board from 2010 up until his dismissal as Sony Music Australia's CEO

The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) has stripped former Sony Music Australia CEO Denis Handlin of his honorary Icon Award, which he was bestowed in 2014.

The move was shared in a statement issued this afternoon (October 15), which simply read: “The Board of ARIA has today resolved to withdraw the ARIA award made to Denis Handlin in 2014.”

It comes days after a Four Corners exposé into Handlin’s tenure at Sony, revealing allegations of systemic bullying, discrimination and misconduct at the label under his leadership. Over 100 current and former Sony employees were interviewed for the report, with former finance director Alan Terrey saying that any staff working under Handlin “were basically puppets”.

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Handlin was elected chairman of the ARIA board in 2010 after previously holding the role between 1999-2008. He had been a member of the board since 1984. His dismissal from Sony entailed his ouster as chairman, with Natalie Waller replacing him as ARIA’s first female chair.

Earlier this week, QMusic confirmed it had revoked Handlin’s honorary Queensland Music Award, saying it made the decision after the Four Corners report “laid bare the undeniable fact that the culture at Sony Music Australia during Denis Handlin’s tenure came with significant human cost”.

On the flipside, the Council of the Order of Australia said Handlin would not be stripped of his two honours – Handlin was named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2005, and promoted to Officer (AO) in 2017 – noting in its own statement that “unanimous community approval is not a criteria for Council to make a recommendation”.

Following the broadcast of the Four Corners report on Monday night (October 11), ARIA shared a statement saying it “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”. The board also promised it would “listen to the voices that need to be heard and provide [its] wholehearted support every step of the way”.

Handlin served at Sony Music Australia for over 50 years and was named CEO in 1984. His departure was announced in an email sent to Sony employees in June, wherein Sony Music Group chairman Rob Stringer reportedly said it was “time for a change in leadership”, with “further announcements in terms of the new direction of [Sony’s] business in Australia and New Zealand” to be made “in due course”.

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In a statement shared by Four Corners, a spokesperson from Sony Music Entertainment said: “We take all allegations of bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behaviour from our employees very seriously and investigate them vigorously. Only recently did claims surface and we are examining them expeditiously.”

In his own statement to the programme’s team, Handlin wrote: “I have always provided support and encouragement to women in the industry and personally championed diversity. I would never tolerate treating women in an inappropriate or discriminatory manner. At any time I was made aware of this sort of behaviour I took action to ensure that it was stopped and didn’t occur again.”

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