Cape Town – M-Net CEO Yolisa Phahle is firing back at the sacked Idols judge Gareth Cliff, saying leave your former Idols co-judges Unathi Msengana and Somizi Mhlongo out of this.
Gareth Cliff is now suing M-Net and [SIC] Entertainment for R25 million, wants his judge's seat at the reality singing show back and wants the court to urgently postpone the 29 January start of the auditions of the 12th season of Idols before it starts without him.
He ignited a social media firestorm that spun out of control and led to a call to boycott M-Net, Idols and Mzansi Magic after he waded into the race debate that exploded after Penny Sparrow's racist comments.
Cliff accused M-Net of a double standard –arguing in his court application that he is being made a scapegoat while M-Net didn't take the same action against Unathi Msengana and Somizi Mhlongo who both caused major public outrage and their own social media storms in 2015 for controversial things they've said.
M-Net admitted that Unathi's social media firestorm impacted M-Net and that months later "we then had to deal with Somizi's inappropriate comments".
M-Net said it had implemented a zero tolerance policy, but Gareth Cliff says the first time he heard about that was when he had to read about it in a M-Net press statement to the media.
M-Net's CEO Yolisa Phahle in the pay-TV broadcaster's answering affidavit says "following the social media incident involving Unathi Msengana, Lani Lombard [M-Net's head of publicity] spoke to each of the Idols judges regarding their use of social media in order to emphasise that they need to comply with the code of conduct that formed part of their agreements with M-Net and to proceed with caution when engaging with people on social media".
"When Lani Lombard spoke to him about the dangers of social media, he specifically stated that he was well aware of of how social media works and the need for caution".
‘The other two incidents are different’
Yolisa Phahle is telling Gareth Cliff to back off Unathi Msengana and Somizi Mhlongo, saying the other Idols judges shouldn't be dragged into the court case because "the other two incidents are clearly distinguishable".
"Unathi used inappropriate language in communicating with a member of the public. However, she didn't issue a public statement of her own accord" and according to M-Net "the message also didn't relate to the very sensitive topic of race relations".
"Somizi's statement, correctly interpreted, is a criticism of white South Africans who he perceived to be engaging in racist conduct," says Phahle.
"Although the language used was unfortunate, his post was directed to 'racist white South Africans' and not to white South Africans generally."
M-Net in the answering affidavit says that "the controversy generated by Unathi and Somizi and the negative sentiment that they generated was not comparable to to that which was expressed in reaction to Gareth Cliff's statement".
"The context was also entirely different as Gareth Cliff chose to enter the fray in the midst of an acrimonious discussion about race relations in the country and made statements which, by his own admission, were highly insensitive and ill-advised".