Former HFPA President Philip Berk Takes Leave of Absence Amid Book Controversy

8:53 PM PST 04/13/2014 by Alex Ben Block
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for HFPA
Philip Berk

His action follows a meeting Friday where members upset about things written about them in his book, "With Signs and Wonders," aired their unhappiness.

South African-born journalist Philip Berk has taken a voluntary leave of absence from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for six months following an acrimonious membership meeting on Friday that he did not attend.

Some HFPA members are upset (and have been for weeks) about what was written about them and the organization in Berk's book, With Signs and Wonders, published in mid-February.

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There was a discussion about suspending Berk for as long as a year, or possibly taking stronger action, according to a source. HFPA president Theo Kingma read a statement during the meeting at the group's headquarters in West Hollywood in which Berk apologized to fellow members who were upset because of personal things he wrote about them.

There was discussion of why it would be improper for a journalistic organization to suspend Berk or censure him because he has First Amendment rights to free speech.

A compromise was worked out by Kingma for Berk to take a voluntary leave for six months. During that period, Berk will not attend any HFPA press conferences, go on HFPA-sponsored press junkets or participate in group meetings. He can go to movie screenings or premieres if he is invited by the studio or distributor.

The source says there are still members who want to revisit the situation and try to take stronger actions or eject Berk permanently. Kingma apparently has said there is no rule that would stop them, so he and the membership will hear any new proposals.

Although the next Golden Globe Awards will take place in a little more than eight months, even when he returns it is considered unlikely Berk will have any role in the next awards.

Berk was born in South Africa but has lived in Los Angeles for many years. He taught for some years in the L.A. Unified School District and currently writes for publications in Malaysia and South Africa. He has served seven one-year terms as president of the HFPA and has held a number of other official offices over the years.

There was no official comment from the HFPA, and Berk did not respond immediately to an email seeking comment.

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