Summary of M-Net and Idols South Africa's response to Gareth Cliff

22 January 2016
Summary of M-Net and Idols South Africa's response to Gareth Cliff Image : 790
Summary of Answering Affidavit for media release 22 January 2016

M-Net and its producer of Idols South Africa have submitted their answering affidavit opposing Gareth Cliff's urgent application for his reinstatement as an Idols SA judge, his attempt to prevent auditions continuing without his involvement as a judge, and his request to prevent M-Net from making statements about Cliff that infringe his rights.

A full copy of the affidavit is available on the M-Net Corporate website: www.mnetcorporate.co.za

The following is a summary of our position:

- Cliff's tweet on 4 January 2016 saying people do not understand free speech, was posted only days after Penny Sparrow's tweet and in the middle of a furious and intensifying debate on racism in South Africa. Whether intended or not, the tweet was widely perceived to be in defence of Sparrow's right to make racist and derogatory statements.

- The negative comments on social media created anger and division amongst South Africans. Consequently, M-Net decided to review its decision to include Cliff as a judge in the upcoming Idols SA season in order to protect its brand.

- A meeting was held with Cliff on 8 January 2016 where it was explained to him that in light of his recent statements, M-Net had taken the decision to no longer include him as a judge on the show. In the interests of preserving an amicable relationship with him, he was offered the opportunity to issue a joint statement with M-Net in order to voluntarily step down from the show, which he declined. M-Net issued its own statement later that night informing the public of its decision.

- M-Net argues that while it had started negotiations with Cliff for the 2016 season, these negotiations were never finalised. Thus no contract for the current season was concluded with Cliff. Alternatively, even if such a contract was concluded (which is denied), M-Net argues that it was entitled to terminate the contract as it has the sole discretion to do so.

- It is clear from Cliff's own papers that his career is not solely dependent on his rendering services as a judge on Idols SA. He is not dependent on Idols SA for generating income and, by his own admission, has been considering walking away from Idols SA for years.

- Idols SA is a popular and top performing show and by delaying the start of the series, audiences will experience delays or miss out completely. There are also far-reaching financial and reputational consequences for M-Net and its producer should the 2016 auditions be stopped. Venues and crewmembers have already been booked. Any schedule changes would affect all freelance contractors and crewmembers that would lose out on their income. Any changes to the filming schedule would also have a detrimental impact on the Idols SA contestants themselves, many of whom are students, who have already made arrangements to participate in the scheduled auditions.

- M-Net denies that it has in any way defamed Cliff or caused harm to his reputation. Any harm done to Cliff's reputation is a direct result of his own actions and not as a result of M-Net's decision to exclude him from the Idols SA judging panel.

- M-Net also denies that it has violated any of Cliff's constitutional rights.

- It also denies that it has acted inconsistently in relation to comments made by two other Idols SA judges. The circumstances relating to the statements made by other Idols SA judges were clearly distinguishable. Cliff chose to enter the fray in the midst of an acrimonious public discussion about race relations and made statements which he admits were highly insensitive and ill-advised.

- Over the years, other presenters have left Idols SA either on their own terms or as a result of non-renewal of contracts.

M-Net seeks the dismissal of Cliff's urgent application with costs.

M-Net stands by its decision to terminate its relationship with Cliff. We are firmly of the view that this decision was the correct one for Idols SA and M-Net. The statements made by Cliff demonstrated a clear lack of empathy for the history of South Africa and M-Net did not wish to participate in fueling further racially based divisions in the country.