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Former Sony Music Australia boss lodges complaint over TV exposé, as industry organisation withdraws award

By | Published on Thursday 14 October 2021

Sony Music

A lawyer for the former boss of Sony Music Australia has confirmed that his client has lodged a formal complaint with Australian broadcaster ABC over an edition of its current affairs show ‘Four Corners’, which focused on the circumstances that led to his sudden departure from the major earlier this year. Meanwhile, one Australian music industry organisation has revoked an honorary award it presented to the former Sony chief in 2020.

The ‘Four Corners’ programme aired earlier this week and put the spotlight on the allegations that Denis Handlin – who led Sony Music Australia for decades – oversaw a toxic corporate culture, where employees were routinely bullied, and harassment and abuse was tolerated.

Handlin suddenly departed Sony in June as The Guardian published an article based on interviews with more than 20 former Australian employees of the major who described a toxic working environment at the music company.

Although Handlin himself hasn’t been directly accused of harassment or abuse, the former employees said that the corporate culture that stemmed from his management style led to “sexual harassment at work events, intimidating behaviour, alcohol abuse and the unfair treatment of women in the workplace”.

This week’s ‘Four Corners’ programme summarised and expanded on those allegations, with one former colleague of Handlin’s stating: “The kindest thing I could say about Denis was that he was sort of an equal opportunity abuser. He was as mean to men as he was to women”.

It’s not just Sony Music that is under pressure as a result of the scandal that has followed Handlin’s departure. With the toxic corporate culture he oversaw widely acknowledged within the music community for years, industry organisations that previously honoured the Sony chief are now being criticised.

That criticism is all the more damaging because issues have been raised about working practices in the Australian music industry beyond Sony, and those industry organisations arguably have a role to play in addressing the wider problem.

QMusic – a music industry development organisation in Queensland – has now revoked an honorary award it presented to Handlin at its annual Queensland Music Awards in 2020, stating that it “could not let this acknowledgement and celebration of Handlin’s career stand”.

Following the airing of the ‘Four Corners’ report, the organisation’s CEO Kris Stewart said: “Last night’s ‘Four Corners’ investigative report laid bare the undeniable fact that the culture under Denis Handlin’s leadership at Sony came at significant human cost. 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”.

Other industry organisations to celebrate Handlin in the past include the Australian Recording Industry Association and collecting society APRA/AMCOS.

The former presented the Sony chief with an Icon Award in 2014 and the latter its Ted Albert Award for outstanding services to Australian music in 2009. And while those awards were presented sometime ago, concerns about Handlin’s management style and the culture at his Sony Music division were first formally raised and investigated in the 1990s.

Both ARIA and APRA/AMCOS have issued statements following the airing of the ‘Four Corners’ report outlining their respective commitments to building a better working environment in the music industry, though neither have commented on the awards they previously presented Handlin.

There have also been calls for Handlin to be stripped of the honours he received from the Council Of The Order Of Australia, which are basically the Australian equivalent of the UK’s MBEs and OBEs.

However, when approached by The Music Network, the Council said that it couldn’t comment on specific nominations or appointments, but indicated that it is unlikely to remove any honours that have been presented to Handlin, given the former music exec has not actually been accused, let alone convicted, of any crimes.

The Guardian approached Handlin and his legal representatives for comment about the revocation of the QMusic award, but got no response. However, Handlin’s legal rep did tell the newspaper that a letter of complaint had been sent to ABC about the ‘Four Corners’ report, although no detail was provided about the nature of the complaint.