Gareth Cliff believes his dismissal as a judge on Idols SA was “quite peculiar” considering how other judges have been dealt with in the past when they were involved in similar situations.
Cliff submitted an urgent application to the High Court in Johannesburg, asking to be reinstated as an Idols judge on M-Net after he was dismissed following a response to a racist tweet by Penny Sparrow.
Cliff is suing M-Net for R25m, of which R5m is for defamation of character.
In his affidavit filed against M-Net and [SIC] Entertainment, the producers of the show, Cliff says he wants the court to declare his dismissal “unconstitutional” and that it “amounts to a breach of contract and is unlawful, invalid and of no force or effect”.
He wants an urgent interdict to restore the contractual relationship between him and the two parties.
“The response by the first respondent [M-Net] in axing me was quite peculiar not only because of its inconsistency with how other judges had been dealt with, but also because M-Net itself had for many years been able to withstand criticism of racism and, more recently, gender discrimination due to either the low number of black winners and/or the total absence to date of a female winner.”
Cliff, who launched his career of 17 years as a radio presenter at Tuks FM in 1996, states that he had been independently contracted to serve as a judge for Idols SA since 2003.
On 6 January, he was contacted by M-Net’s Director for Local Interest, Nkateko Mabaso, saying that they were reviewing their agreement.
On 7 January, he was informed of a meeting to discuss the outcome of the review on 8 January.
“We [Cliff and his manager] were informed that a decision had been taken not to continue to engage me for the 2016 season of Idols SA.”
According to Cliff’s affidavit, the agreement between him and Idols, more often than not, was only signed well after the season had started.
“In respect of the 2016 season and in similar vein, it was orally agreed between the parties that the usual contractual relationship was being renewed.”
Cliff states that a racist message was disseminated on social media by Penny Sparrow, essentially to the effect that she regarded black people as monkeys because they overpopulated and littered the beach on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast on New Year’s Day.
He says that he found the views expressed by Sparrow to be objectionable, disgusting and idiotic.
“I was deeply offended thereby.”
However, Cliff stipulates that he is an “ardent believer in free speech” and that he believes Sparrow had the right to express her objectionable views. According to him many others felt that Sparrow’s remarks amounted to hate speech.
“Suffice to say that these differences signified an age-old debate about where free speech ends and hate speech starts.”
He says that he has admitted to not being an expert on the debate and that he is willing to learn.
“I have also confessed that I was wrong in my lay interpretation of the law and issued a public apology on 5 January,” he says in his affidavit.
He says his comments in reaction to Sparrow’s statement generated debate, with the majority of people supporting him, “but a vocal minority were condemnatory”.
He states that another judge, Unathi Msengana, posted a tweet containing a profanity in social media which also caused uproar, yet she is still an Idols SA judge.
The same happened with Somizi Mhlongo, also an Idols SA judge, when he posted a “racist” comment on Facebook.
“… a public debate raged and he was accused of being racist himself, which is far worse than being (wrongly) accused of ‘sympathising’ with a racist like Penny Sparrow.”
Cliff says that the statement published by M-Net on his axing on January 9 has some inconsistencies with regards to the statement that they do not believe that he is a racist – yet he was axed.
Along with the R25m he is suing M-Net for, he also demands a retraction “of the harmful remarks” made by M-Net in their statement on January 9, an unconditional apology, his reinstatement as an Idols SA judge, and for M-Net to cover all costs.
If he is not reinstated, he wants the court to halt the Idols judging process for the 2016 season.