The day has come: a huge investigation into former Sony Music head honcho Denis Handlin has been published by the ABC – and will be explored in this week’s episode of Four Corners – and it includes some huge claims about behaviour behind closed doors at one of Australia’s biggest record labels.
In a published report from the Four Corners team ahead of tonight’s episode, over 100 current and former staff from Sony Music Australia have apparently come forward, with allegations that Handlin’s behaviour went largely unchecked for the majority of his time at the top.
Next week, #4corners reveals the inside story of Sony Music Australia, where fear and intimidation stalked the corridors for decades.
— Four Corners (@4corners) October 7, 2021
Before the episode airs on the ABC tonight, here are the biggest claims to come out of the massive investigation.
1. The Global Sony Team Allegedly Knew About It
It’s alleged that the global Sony Music company, which is based in Madison Square in New York City, was aware of the decades of the alleged “systemic bullying, discrimination and misconduct” under Handlin’s rule, well before he exited the company in June this year.
Sony Music’s former finance director Alan Terrey told Four Corners that the New York headquarters’ claims it only found out about Handlin’s behaviour recently is “such a load of hogwash”, considering the allegations levelled at Handlin extend over his 37-year career as the label’s top man.
Greg Lockhart, who was the head of HR in the ’90s, said that he reported Handlin’s behaviour to the global head office multiple times, but claimed his concerns were ignored by the New York team.
2. Senior Staff Co-Wrote A Report For The Global President
In 1998, the global team finally took notice of Handlin’s alleged behaviour after a US executive visited and reported what was going on. After that visit, Terrey said he was called by someone above him at the New York office, who asked what working for Handlin was like.
“I said, ‘I’ll give it to you in two words: utterly miserable’.” he told the ABC.
Following that call, Sony Music’s International President at the time asked Lockhart to send over a report about Handlin’s behaviour. Terrey co-wrote this unpublished document along with two other executive-level people at the label. It’s said to have detailed allegations against Handlin, including claims of daily abuse, “frequent mad rages of screaming”, bullying and intimidation, humiliating staff in meetings, and concerns about his drinking habits.
3. Handlin Allegedly Wanted Staff Followed By Private Investigators
As part of the report created for the New York head office, Lockhart alleged Handlin ordered him on several occasions to have staff members followed by private detectives.
Lockhart said Denis’ “obsession with total control” fuelled these orders, as well as further instructions to fire staff for unfair reasons.
4. He Allegedly Demanded People Be Sacked For “Being Pregnant”
Lockhart said reasons Handlin allegedly wanted people sacked included “not liking the physical look of someone”, “not smiling at him”, and for “being pregnant”.
Four Corners further confirmed that at least seven women were made redundant while on maternity leave, which extended over a six-year period up until 2013, and were paid cash settlements on the way out.
5. Objectifying Female Staff Went Largely Unchecked
Allegations of discrimination against women have also been levelled at Handlin, with “laddish behaviour” apparently accepted within the company while he was at the helm
Former senior manager Matthew McQuade told Four Corners he witnessed this behaviour first-hand when Handlin began objectifying an employee not long after she had been hired.
“I was standing with Denis and he started making sexual comments about an employee I’d just hired,” he said. “Breasts, physique, those sorts of things.
“Because of the position of power, it allowed people who wanted to have that laddish view of life the free rein to do it.
“There were no consequences for doing it because ultimately one person held all the power. He set the tone.”
A lot of this behaviour has been anonymously posted through Beneath The Glass Ceiling‘s Instagram account, which has been identified by other former staff members, including former secretary Eleanor McKay.
“As soon as I read them I actually felt sick,” she said to the ABC.
“I felt really angry that it was still going on and that it was still predominantly young women or junior staff who were bearing the brunt, and they were the ones that had to speak out.”
The number of allegations levelled at major music labels in Australia through that account in late 2020 is what tipped the scales for Sony, and resulted in Handlin getting the sack in June this year.
6. Handlin Was Suspended And Was Reinstated Three Months Later
Following the report filed in 1998, the global head office suspended Handlin from his position while it conducted an investigation into his behaviour. Apparently, 10 executives from Sony’s Australian offices were flown to New York for individual interviews about what they had witnessed and experienced.
Three months after his suspension, Handlin was reinstated as the head of the Australian company by the global headquarters and would go on to rule the roost for another 20 years.
This was the final straw for a lot of the then-senior staff, with nine of the group of 10 reportedly leaving the company within four years of Handlin’s return.
At the time of publishing, none of the artists who have seen success during Handlin’s tenure at Sony Music Australia have publicly spoken about the allegations – a list that includes the likes of Delta Goodrem, Tones And I, Amy Shark, Guy Sebastian, Gang Of Youths, Midnight Oil, and Tina Arena – but that may change once the Four Corners episode airs tonight.
In a statement to Four Corners, Handlin said he has “always provided support and encouragement” to women in the music industry, and he “took action” on any inappropriate behaviour that was reported to him while at the label.
“I would never tolerate treating women in an inappropriate or discriminatory manner,” he said.
“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.”
‘Facing The Music: The Sony Music Scandal‘ is airing on Four Corners at 8:30pm on Monday on the ABC, and will also be available to watch on ABC iView.
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