Gareth Cliff to fight Idols axing

Gareth Cliff PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla
Gareth Cliff PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla

Idols judge Gareth Cliff is set to take legal action against M-Net after the broadcaster fired him on Friday night after his comments on Twitter.

Cliff was axed two weeks before Idols Season 12 was due to kick off with countrywide auditions at the end of this month. M-Net CEO Yolisa Phahle told City Press yesterday that if Cliff were to haul them to court, they would “deal with the matter”.

Cliff was fired in line with M-Net’s new zero-tolerance approach to presenters making controversial statements. Idols SA will also be moved from M-Net to M-Net’s Mzansi Magic channel, which has more black viewers.

“With the tremendous growth of the Idols SA Compact audience it makes sense to make Mzansi Magic the home of Idols SA Season 12,” said Phahle.

On Friday night, M-Net issued a statement saying Cliff would no longer be part of the judging panel for the upcoming season of Idols SA. He told City Press yesterday he would prefer not to comment.

“The only thing I can say is that we are looking at the legal possibilities,” he said.

Cliff was shown the door after he became embroiled in controversy on Monday during a race debate around former estate agent Penny Sparrow, who called black people “monkeys” on Facebook.

Cliff then re-tweeted a poll that asked if racist social-media posts should be treated as criminal acts. He wrote: “People really don’t understand free speech at all. Freedom of speech means having the right to hear things you don’t agree with, not just things you do ... Hate speech is very specifically defined in law,” he tweeted.

“Free speech is something we agreed to as a modern, open society … Free speech means you can say ‘F**k you’ to me. I can just as easily dismiss you as a moron.”

Phahle, however, told City Press the channel felt Penny Sparrow’s comments did amount to hate speech.

“Hate speech is not applicable with regard to freedom of speech,” she said. “Over the past few months, following [fellow Idols judge] Unathi [Msengana]’s indiscretions on social media, we have been in discussions with our judges, presenters and talent to sensitise them to the risks of using social media,” said Phahle.

“Unfortunately we then had to deal with [fellow Idols judge] Somizi’s inappropriate comments and, following the latest issue, we have now implemented a zero-tolerance policy for all social-media posts that go against the spirit of nation-building.

“This policy will apply to everyone associated with our brands going forward,” she said.

Phahle said they did not believe Cliff was a racist but “his response showed a lack of empathy for our history and it is important to differentiate between freedom of speech and hate speech”.

Cliff apologised on Tuesday, calling himself “an insensitive asshole”.

In a statement, he said: “This whole saga with the idiotic comments of Penny Sparrow has upset me, but I must acknowledge the pain and anger of so many on Twitter who thought I would in any way condone the things she said.”

He further wrote that, with regard to free speech and hate speech, he needed to continue his education.

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