Editorials 19.1.2016 09:00 am

Limits to freedom of expression

Gareth Cliff. (File Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24/ Felix Dlangamandla)

Gareth Cliff. (File Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24/ Felix Dlangamandla)

Cliff apologised, but this was not enough to undo the damage his remarks inflicted on his reputation.

A few weeks ago, Penny Sparrow angered many people with her racist and hateful comments on social media.

Despite the outrage triggered by Sparrow’s remarks, in which she called black people monkeys, former Idols judge and radio personality Gareth Cliff poured petrol on fire, accusing those infuriated by Sparrow’s racist post of not understanding freedom of speech.

Cliff apologised, but this was not enough to undo the damage his remarks inflicted on his reputation. The apology was also not sufficient to help him keep his job.

Now, Cliff is suing his former bosses, M-Net, for R25 million for “wrongful dismissal” after being axed from the Idols SA judging panel. We have always maintained freedom of expression is an important right enshrined in our constitution. However, there are limits to this right.

It must be exercised responsibly and never used for hate speech and incitement of violence. M-Net acted swiftly because it probably regarded Cliff’s comment as an endorsement of Sparrow’s racist insults. His remark was insensitive and showed a lack of understanding of our sad past.

Although M-Net did well to cut ties with Cliff, his right to pursue all legal avenues at his disposal to fight what he perceives as defamation and unfair labour practice should be respected.

 

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