The defamation of character case instituted against broadcaster M-Net by axed Idols judge Gareth Cliff is expected to kick off in the High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
This is where his legal team headed by Advocate Dali Mpofu is expected to focus on Cliff’s right to free speech, following a post he made on social media during the Penny Sparrow racism saga earlier this month.
Sparrow, a KwaZulu-Natal south coast realtor, had over the holidays, likened black Durban beachgoers to “monkeys”.
Cliff was sacked days later after he responded to a poll on Twitter, that racist social media posts be criminalised. He tweeted that: “People don’t understand free speech at all”, and then later apologised. He is suing the broadcaster for R25 million for damages and defamation if he is not reinstated.
“We will be going to court on Tuesday, the 26th,” said Eric Mabuza who is part of his legal team.
“M-Net has also responded, indicating that they are opposing. They will file their papers tomorrow (Thursday).”
Cliff’s intention to sue M-Net came to light on Monday. In court papers filed in court and 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 tru (sic) 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 Cliff affidavit.