Following news reports detailing issues of alleged misconduct at “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and TMZ’s newsroom, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar and WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group head Ann Sarnoff each sent out a memo to staff addressing the issues and vowing to hold themselves accountable. BuzzFeed first reported details of the internal memos.
Kilar wrote that he is “both concerned and disappointed by public reports regarding patterns of unacceptable behavior that have been raised in recent weeks,” according to the note obtained by Variety. The chief exec, who began his tenure at WarnerMedia in April, believes that “one of the most important things I’d like people to say about us when we are not in the room is that we treat people with dignity.”
As Variety reported exclusively in July, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” workplace is under investigation following BuzzFeed and Variety reports of misbehavior ranging from racism and intimidation to poor treatment of crews during the COVID-19 production shutdown. BuzzFeed also did a deep dive earlier in the month into TMZ’s newsroom culture, where former employees alleged accounts of misogyny and racism, and said that there was an “unchecked abuse of power.” “TMZ on TV” and “Ellen” are both produced by Telepictures Productions.
Noting that the company has hired a third party to conduct an “objective, proactive review” across WarnerMedia’s production business, Kilar encouraged staffers to report misconduct.
“I anticipate that there will be situations where we choose to terminate business relationships,” he wrote. “I also anticipate that there will be situations where a person may choose not to work with us because of these rigid expectations. That’s fine. While there may be companies that will do business with those people, we do not need to be one of them.”
Separately, Sarnoff wrote that she will hold her senior leadership team “accountable for setting the tone for how we work together across the company and how we treat each other across the table.”
Read Kilar’s note to staff below:
Hello Team –
I am both concerned and disappointed by public reports regarding patterns of unacceptable behavior that have been raised in recent weeks. This email is to share what we will be doing about it.
I’ve always been a believer that a reputation is largely what people say about you when you are not in the room. In my first four months here at WarnerMedia, I’ve thought a lot about our reputation. Specifically, what is our reputation today and what aspirations should we have for our reputation going forward?
I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the most important things I’d like people to say about us when we are not in the room is that we treat people with dignity.
What does it mean to treat a person with dignity? At a minimum, I believe it entails an acceptance of another person’s identity. It also entails a responsibility to validate, to recognize, and to include. Finally, I believe it entails a commitment to fairness and a commitment to maintaining a safe environment for all.
I say the above as prelude to the statement that going forward, we will be reinforcing our values and demanding more of ourselves and more of the people with whom we choose to partner. We will not be tolerating patterns of behavior that are at odds with our need to treat each other with dignity. What this means pragmatically:
We have engaged a third party to do an objective, proactive review across our production business (internal teams in addition to partner productions). I want to understand if there is any pattern of behavior that is at odds with our need to treat each other with dignity.
I also am encouraging all of you (and our partners) to report situations where you see a pattern of behavior at odds with this standard. This can be done with a simple communication to your supervisor or HR rep. It can also be done by sending an email to Mike Sofia, who heads up compliance for the company (firstname.lastname@example.org). Anonymously, it can be done by calling our help line at 800-375-0288. We will continue to take seriously every allegation of abuse of power, unethical conduct, discrimination or other concerns, and investigate any claim brought forward.
Over the next few weeks, each of you will be receiving an updated version of our Standards of Business Conduct. You will be expected to fully digest this important document and sign up to it as a condition of being on this team.In the coming weeks, we will also be
to all of our existing and prospective partners (e.g., the active and potential motion picture and television productions). This communication will make clear the requirement that people be treated with dignity and our intention to sever ties where patterns of behavior are at odds with that requirement.
I anticipate that there will be situations where we choose to terminate business relationships. I also anticipate that there will be situations where a person may choose not to work with us because of these rigid expectations. That’s fine. While there may be companies that will do business with those people, we do not need to be one of them.
I also want to say that managing our way strongly through the above will entail remembering that we are all human. I am certain that we will make mistakes as we endeavor to get this right. But I know we can and will be better so long as we are clear in our expectations and hold each other accountable to those expectations each and every day.
With thanks –
Sarnoff’s memo to staff is as follows:
It’s been a little over a month since our two groups were brought together and in that time, I’ve had the opportunity to think about the culture of our new organization and want to share these thoughts with you.
As a new division of our company, we have the opportunity to clearly state our principles and our expectations right from the start, so we’re all working from the same playbook. The Studios and Networks group is a creative nexus for all of WarnerMedia, and our success will be based on innovation, calculated risk taking, unbridled creativity and a clearly defined code of conduct. We all have a role in supporting our code of conduct, and no one is above it.
So, with that in mind, some initial thoughts:
· Be collaborative in your creativity, think outside the box and outside your “legacy” company.
· Be respectful, and be open and direct in your communication.
· Let’s treat our colleagues the way we’d like to be treated, regardless of their job title or position.
· Do not be afraid to question authority or the status quo – everyone adds value and every voice matters.
· Finally, and perhaps most importantly, please feel empowered to call out behavior that runs counter to these values.
You can see these aren’t radical or even new ideas. But, unfortunately, they’re also not how some people have behaved in the past. It’s time for that to change. As the leader of this new organization, I take responsibility for what happens on my watch.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been putting together my senior leadership team and I will hold them accountable for setting the tone for how we work together across the company and how we treat each other across the table. I’ve also empowered, and will hold accountable, the Studios and Networks HR and Legal teams to act on any issues that are brought to them. These groups are a safe harbor where you can register any concerns.
I know individuals (and organizations) thrive when there is trust – trust that the company values every one of its employees, and trust that when an employee raises an issue, it will be looked at expeditiously and thoroughly, and without risk of retaliation. No matter who raises the issue or who it is raised about. While the company has always had policies in place and acted on these matters, we will be redoubling our efforts. And, I will state here today, that this is how we will operate going forward.
Our culture is something that is very important to me, and it will be key to our growth and success. Please know that my commitment to this is more than just sending out a memo and checking a box. Starting with me, we all have a responsibility to help create an environment where everyone feels respected, valued and safe when they show up as their authentic selves. It’s how we’ll do our best work. In addition, to give us a baseline on our culture and to help us better understand your experiences and the work environment, we will be asking a third-party to conduct a culture survey of our group in the next few weeks.
I’m truly excited about the future of the Studios and Networks Group. Our opportunities and success are only limited by our imaginations, so let’s show everyone what we can do together.