Saturday, January 9, 2016

BREAKING. M-Net CEO Yolisa Phahle on firing Gareth Cliff as Idols judge: 'He's not racist but he showed a lack of empathy for South Africa's history'.

M-Net's CEO Yolisa Phahle says Gareth Cliff is not a racist but that the pay-TV broadcaster fired him as an Idols judge because he showed a lack of empathy for South Africa's history with his comments in the wake of the Penny Sparrow racism furore this past week.

M-Net abruptly axed Gareth Cliff from his perch as an Idols judge for the upcoming 12th season - a position he's held since joining Idols in the second season.

M-Net is also dumping Idols from the premium M-Net (DStv 101) channel, and making it a Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) show only - a move that was expected since November last year as audience demographics and viewership for the [SIC] Entertainment produced show changed over the past four seasons.

"We don't believe that Gareth Cliff is a racist but his response did show a lack of empathy for our history and it's important to differentiate between freedom of speech and hate speech," says Yolisa Phahle.

"Hate speech is not applicable with regard to freedom of speech and Penny Sparrow's comments were hateful,' she said.

M-Net, tired of on-air personalities swirling in social media firestorms and doing brand damage to M-Net shows and channels on DStv, has now also implemented a "zero tolerance approach" to social media mishaps.

"Over the last few months following [Idols judge] Unathi Msengana's indiscretions on social media, we have been in discussions with our judges, presenters and talent to sensitise them to the risks of using social media," says Yolisa Phahle.

"All the Idols judges were reminded that M-Net holds all brand ambassadors and employees to the highest standards in our ongoing efforts to promote and build a modern and inclusive South Africa".

"Unfortunately we then had to deal with Somizi's inappropriate comments and following the latest issue, we have now implemented a zero tolerance policy for all social media posts that go against the spirit of nation-building. This policy will apply to everyone associated with our brands going forward".

The week's powerful confluence of the worlds of entertainment and politics, combined with the power of social media, once again created a relentless firestorm that M-Net didn't want but couldn't ignore.

It comes in the same week as the eNCA (DStv 403) news channel removed its anchor Andrew Barnes and started disciplinary proceedings when he likewise dragged eNCA into a social media uproar.

Gareth Cliff was the only white judge on the four person Idols judging panel, alongside Somizi Mhlongo who was added for the just concluded 11th season, alongside music executive Randall Abrahams, and artist Unathi Msengana.

M-Net's abrupt axing of Gareth Cliff from Idols as a longtime judge follows after the Randburg-based pay-TV broadcaster announced earlier this week that it is "reviewing" his contract and ongoing participation in the reality singing competition show.

M-Net CEO Yolisa Phahle, who Gareth Cliff interviewed on CliffCentral in September 2015, was swift to respond and to quickly start distancing M-Net and Idols from Gareth Cliff.

Yolisa Phahle quickly started to make it clear this past week that Gareth Cliff "is not currently contracted by M-Net" and that "we will be reviewing his future employment with the company".

The swift removal of Gareth Cliff comes in the wake of the Idols judge who waded into the debate over the shocking racists remarks made by the KwaZulu-Natal real estate agent Penny Sparrow she wrote last Saturday.

After Penny Sparrow sparked a massive race debate in South Africa for calling black people "monkeys", Gareth Cliff remarked that "People really don't understand free speech at all."

A barrage of criticism followed, with people calling for the boycott of M-Net, Idols and CliffCentral - something which immediately became a very big concern for M-Net and its channels and started to damage and negatively impact the Idols brand.

Gareth Cliff later apologised for his remark, calling himself "an insensitive asshole", continued to explain what he meant and his views on race relations in South Africa, and saying that he needed to "continue his education" about hate speech.

The nationwide audition process for the 12th season of Idols now on Mzansi Magic only will start on 30 January at The Playhouse in Durban.

It's possible that Idols might now go with just a 3-member judging panel and a city-to-city guest judge when the audition process kicks off.

An online petition, BringBackGarethCliff at  was started, saying "lets not make Idols another politicised platform".