"SERIOUSLY? IS THAT FUCKING IT?" ARIA'S OWN GOAL.



It’s possible that ARIA. – board and management – could have handled things worse this year. Possible. But lordy, you wouldn’t want to see what “worse” might look like in their hands would you?


Crisis management isn’t for the faint hearted. It’s done, obviously, at a time of great stress to the systems and the people of an organisation. It demands a lot of executives, their advisers, and an overseeing board. In this crisis, ARIA has been inactive for as long as possible, slow to react when forced to, and unable to say or do what might to outside observers seem obvious, and necessary.


Simply, they just keep stuffing up. At the moment it seems their chief value might be as a future case study for management and communications students of all the things not to do in a crisis.


There are some points raised on this page in the four months since the forced departure of the CEO of Sony Music Australia, Denis Handlin, blew away decades of denial by individual members and ARIA itself, about the existence of endemic abuse, exploitation, and cover-up.


Principally, there have been numerous opportunities to address the industry and public, to express concern and sympathy for victims, to open its doors to thorough and independent investigation, and to initiate measures to prevent the recurrence of this behaviour.


None of them have been taken. Not a single one.


In the past week, if it wasn’t already clear, the organisation which represents the major and independent record labels (but in truth, is the operating arm of the majors who provide the bulk of the funding and the leadership), remains singularly unable to address a cancer within its member companies. And in truth, throughout the industry, as the accusations made on the Instagram page of activist group, Beneath The Glass Ceiling have made clear.


When Four Corners a week ago provided startling personal explanations of the behaviour of and damage done by Handlin and sections of his senior management, even those of us who were very familiar with the stories were knocked sideways by the unmistakable impact on the handful of victims and survivors who appeared on camera.


And if you didn’t already know, those were not by any means the worst stories known about Sony. Or other labels. Nor were they, despite claims by Sony head office, the first time the New York office had heard of them.


The next day, as anger, sadness and disgust percolated, ARIA issued a statement – not personally delivered by a senior figure, just put out as a press release - so anodyne that it may as well have been drafted from a generic computer program.


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


As demands grew that industry awards presented to Handlin– the ARIA Icon, and the Ted Albert Award for services to the music industry, handed out by related industry association APRA/AMCOSS – be withdrawn, there was not a word.


As usual, ARIA chair, Natalie Waller (representing ABC Music on the board, and the replacement for the previous chair, that man Handlin) and CEO, Annabelle Herd – both of whom were conspicuous by their absence in that Four Corners report – said nothing.


The only industry organisation which responded and took action was Queensland’s umbrella body, QMusic, whose statement about the withdrawal of an honorary award given to Handlin last year, was upfront and an example to ARIA of what to say and how to do it.


“Following ongoing reports of systemic bullying, discrimination, and misconduct under Handlin’s leadership at Sony Music Entertainment, QMusic CEO Kris Stewart said the organization could not let this acknowledgement and celebration of Handlin's career stand. ‘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,’ he said. ‘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."


When it became clear that the clamour for action was not going away, ARIA finally announced a response late on Friday. Not with a mea culpa, not with an explanation, but a one-line statement. “The Board of ARIA has today resolved to withdraw the ARIA award made to Denis Handlin in 2014.”


The thoughts of a senior and widely respected female figure in the industry, posted on Facebook, spoke for many.


“SERIOUSLY?! Is that fucking it?! One sentence? A moment in time when they could have shown some real bloody leadership and change and called him out for what he is and the damage and trauma he caused to so many for so long. Not even the slightest acknowledgment of the victims OR as [a former ARIA employee] just pointed out, even which bloody ARIA award they're taking out of his grubby, clammy sausage-fingered hands. DO FUCKING BETTER.”


Can they do better? Can we expect more from the ARIA board?


Is there a genuine desire in that group for introspection and reaction given at least three companies represented face accusations of poor behaviour, and most of them had been board or work colleagues of Handlin for some years? Do they really think he should have had the award taken away from him (if so, why wait this long?) or was this a reluctant sop to critics?


So, who is on the board? As well as Waller and Herd, there is George Ash of Universal Music Australia; Libby Blakey of Warner Music Australia; Sebastian Chase, of the independent label and distributor, MGM; Karen Don of Universal Music Australia, a former lawyer for ARIA; Sophie McCarthur of Sony Music Australia; Gordon Pitt of Sony Music Australia; Sophie Paterson of Sony Music Australia, joining this year as a board observer; David Vodicka of the independent Rubber Group; Dan Rosen of Warner Music Australia, who prior to that spent a decade as ARIA CEO, working closely with chairman Handlin.


Which ones of those are genuinely independent and independent thinking? Which ones have associations with Handlin, or concerns about ending up being pilloried like Handlin, that may compromise their thinking? Which ones will actually speak out on any of these matters?


Is CEO Herd, who wasn’t involved with the music industry before this year, someone who wants to affect change but is hamstrung by a board too scared or too complicit to act? Or is she part of the continuing problem?


On its website, describing what it does and what it stands for, ARIA says: “Our primary objective is to advance the interests of the Australian record industry by ensuring ARIA is a cohesive, effective and respected organisation.” They may be cohesive, but effective? Hardly.


And respected? Well, good luck with that one.


Previously: where are the artists speaking up for the staff abused by their label?