Following the ABC’s Four Corners exposé into the workplace culture of Sony Music Australia under the leadership of Denis Handlin, QMusic has revoked the former CEO’s honorary Queensland Music Award.
According to The Music Network, the news was shared yesterday (October 12) in a memo delivered to QMusic members, signed by president Natalie Strijland and CEO Kris Stewart.
Stewart and Strijland pointed out that the Four Corners report – for which over 100 current and former employees of Sony Music Australia shared their experiences working under Handlin’s rule – “laid bare the undeniable fact that the culture at Sony Music Australia during Denis Handlin’s tenure came with significant human cost”.
Their note continued: “Following ongoing reports of systemic bullying, discrimination and misconduct under Handlin’s leadership, we cannot let QMusic’s acknowledgement and celebration of his career stand. 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.”
On the flipside, the Council of the Order of Australia has confirmed that Handlin will not be stripped of his two honours, with a statement made to The Music Network noting that “unanimous community approval is not a criteria for Council to make a recommendation”.
Handlin was named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2005, and was promoted to Officer (AO) in 2017.
“In the Council’s view, and as a general principle, for the Order to be brought into disrepute a conviction, penalty or adverse finding must have occurred,” the statement read. “In essence, the Council recognises that the law prescribes behaviours and expressions, which are abhorrent to society and therefore uses law as the threshold for termination and cancellation.”
At the time of writing, Handlin’s QMusic Honorary Award is the only accolade to have been stripped from his title. The former executive has several awards remaining in his honour, including the 2014 ARIA Icon Award, and the 2009 Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music (bestowed to him at that year’s APRA Awards).
ARIA and APRA AMCOS both published statements following Monday’s episode of Four Corners, with the former saying it “will listen to the voices that need to be heard and provide [its] wholehearted support every step of the way”, and the latter declaring that it “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”.
NME has reached out to ARIA and APRA AMCOS for clarification on the status of his honours.
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”.
As a result of his dismissal from Sony, Handlin was removed from his role as chairman on the ARIA board, where he had been a board member since 1984. Natalie Waller replaced Handlin as ARIA’s first female chair.
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 a statement to Four Corners, 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.”