A South Gauteng High Court ruling expected Friday may reinstate axed Idols SA judge Gareth Cliff, but whether the public eye will accept him remains to be seen. According to an expert in public relations, Cliff “cannot afford to make any further mistakes”
Cliff lost his job after broadcaster M-Net severed ties with him, following a tweet he posted on a Twitter poll on whether racist outbursts should be criminalised, after a racist post by KZN South Coast realtor Penny Sparrow.
“People don’t understand free speech at all,” he said.
“His comment about freedom of speech on Twitter responding to the Sparrow incident was not well thought out,” Janine Lloyd of PR Experts said.
Cliff who apologised for his tweet prior to being fired took M-Net to court this week for defamation of character and was represented by legal heavyweight Dali Mpofu.
Lloyd said Cliff was “scrambling and also reacting without thinking”.
“Perhaps his emotions run a little high. It does put him on the back foot, and he now needs to think carefully about his responses in public.
“You are judged by how you respond to a crisis, and with everyone watching him he cannot afford to make any further mistakes.”
Mpofu in asking the judge to reinstate Cliff to his position as a judge, also heard that he was not a racist as agreed upon by both parties.
Lloyd said people needed to remember that when tensions and emotions are high what you say must be thought out.
“It is unfortunate that his comment was taken to mean that he is racist. You need to understand that timing is everything, the freedom of speech discussion should not have been brought up especially in the climate we have in South Africa that is highly sensitive to race issues.”
However, Lloyd said she did not view “any malice in his comment or racism and do believe it has been blown out of proportion”.
“He is in the media industry where freedom of speech is held sacred and I presume his comment was born from this.”
Cliff however could come out of this crisis, she said.
“…As long as he keeps his cool and remains focused on resolving the issue.”
“Gareth’s brand is about controversy and being outspoken. In this respect his response to M-Net and his approach line up with who he is. You may like him or you may hate him, but the fact is his brand remains strong.
The court had also heard from M-Net’s lawyer Wim Trengove that Cliff had become a “poster boy” for racism, as his tweet created a perception that he defended Sparrow’s comments.
But Lloyd said: “Gareth didn’t make the racist comments – Sparrow did – so the lines are quite clear here.”
When posting on social media Lloyd advises you to:
- Think think think before you post or tweet.
- You need to consider the timing, the sensitivities and environment you are in.
- On social media issues spread like wildfire and will often be misconstrued so you need to pick your battles carefully.