The defamation of character case against M-Net instituted by axed Idols judge Gareth Cliff, is set to focus on his right to free speech.
This, after Cliff was sacked by M-net for his response to the recent racial storm to hit South Africa following a post by KwaZulu-Natal South Coast realtor Penny Sparrow, who at the holiday’s likened black Durban beachgoers to “monkeys”.
Cliff had responded to a poll on Twitter over a call that racist social media posts be criminalised.
He tweeted that: “People don’t understand free speech at all”. He later apologised but days after initiated legal proceedings against M-net, in suing the broadcaster for R25 million for damages and defamation if he is not reinstated.
In court papers filed in the High Court in Johannesburg as seen by The Citizen, Cliff’s founding affidavit states: “I am not a racist and neither do I in any way support or endorse the racist views of Sparrow and her fellow travellers. On the contrary I had expressly articulated my disgust and objection thereto.
“While I may have misunderstood the line between free speech and hate speech, I myself enjoyed the right freely to express the incorrect and/or constitutional position on any subject.
“For example, I can say: the constitution allows for the death penalty. This would be plainly wrong but I have the freedom to say it. Neither does such a statement make me a supporter of criminal murder.
“My defence of free speech formed part of the necessary debate in the long and arduous road to building a vibrant constitutional democracy where individuals and the media promote debate on controversial social issues.”
According to court papers, Cliff earned R356 160 over 10 months. This equates to R35 616 month to month from February 1 to November 30 2015.
Cliff further said he found his axing “quite peculiar”, not only because of “its inconsistency with how other judges” were dealt with, but also that M-net itself had been able to withstand sustained criticism of racism and recently gender discrimination.
In December, Cliff’s colleague Idols judge Somizi Mhlongo took to Instagram where he said: “Racist white South African’s hoping Zuma’s fall will give them a white president or bring back apartheid is try denial of the reality.”
He later apologised. Idols judge Unathi Msengana also posted a tweet which contained vulgarity, causing an uproar.
Both remain as judges.
“It is my view that in both the Msengana and Mhlongo cases, the first respondent (M-net) dealt with the matters correctly, but not in my case,” reads the affidavit.