Controversial Idols SA judge Gareth Cliff will be part of the judging panel for the 12th season of the show after the Gauteng High Court ruled in his favour on Friday, ordering M-Net to reinstate him.
Gareth Cliff had been axed after seemingly defending Penny Sparrow’s racist remarks earlier this month. Sparrow referred to black people as monkeys. Irate members of the public took to social media to express their anger, with some calling for racist social media posts to be criminalized.
In reaction to the craze, Gareth Cliff said, “People don’t understand free speech at all.” After making this comment, he was heavily criticized for defending racism. Later on, he apologized and admitted that what he thought was free speech was actually hate speech. However, a number of people threatened to boycott Idols SA if he was not fired. Shortly thereafter, M-Net announced that Cliff had been removed from the show’s judging panel.
A few days later, Cliff filed a court application ordering M-Net to reinstate him as Idols SA judge and pay him R25 million for defamation of character and breach of contract, arguing that he had been dismissed unfairly. His former SABC boss, Advocate Dali Mpofu, represented him in court.
After the hearing, Judge Caroline Nicholls ordered M-Net to reinstate Cliff, stating that the email communication between Cliff’s agent and M-Net showed clearly that there had been an agreement confirming Cliff’s participation in this year’s season of Idols SA. This, according to the judge, constituted a contract, which could not be terminated without following the right procedure.
Speaking to reporters outside court after winning the case, Cliff said he was thrilled by the outcome.
In a statement released on its website on Friday, M-Net said, “As ordered by the South Gauteng High Court, and as a good corporate citizen that respects the rule of law, M-Net will reinstate Mr Cliff as a judge on season 12 of Idols SA. We believe we did the right thing by taking Mr Cliff off the show. We remain committed to using our platforms to contribute to a united South Africa.”
However, Gareth Cliff’s future on Idols SA still hangs in the balance. Advocate Wim Trengove, M-Net’s attorney, said the contract with Idols SA judges allows the broadcaster to dismiss a judge with five day’s notice. Therefore, if Cliff is no longer wanted on the show, he could still be dismissed legally in the near future.
Meanwhile Cliff’s lawyers have decided to drop the R25m defamation lawsuit, saying they were extending a hand of friendship to M-Net. However, they said they would be monitoring the broadcaster’s conduct, taking further legal action if necessary.
Cliff is expected to resume his duties as Idols judge on Wednesday.