Saturday, January 9, 2016

BREAKING. M-Net fires Gareth Cliff from Idols; drops Idols from M-Net channel, making it a Mzansi Magic show only for the 12th season.

M-Net has abruptly fired Gareth Cliff, dropping the CliffCentral creator and radio DJ from Idols as a judge, and as has been expected, is also dropping Idols from the premium M-Net (DStv 101) channel immediately, making it a Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) show only for the 12th season as The Voice takes centre stage on M-Net.

In a terse statement M-Net says that "Gareth Cliff will not be part of the judging panel for Idols season 12, which is due to commence with countrywide auditions at the end of January 2016."

"M-Net thanks Gareth Cliff for the critical role he has played in seeking out and developing new talent over the years and for contributing to the success of the show to date."

"Idols season 12 will be screened on M-Net's local interest channel Mzansi Magic which is available to both DStv Premium and DStv Compact viewers".

Beyond the uncomfortable statement M-Net, has so far remained silent as South Africa reacts to the news, with the pay-TV broadcaster no saying or explaining at all why and the specific reasons from M-Net's side for ending its Idols business relationship with Gareth Cliff.

The dropping of Idols from the M-Net channel has been expected due to viewership demographic and ratings changes after the pay-TV broadcaster made Idols a co-production since its 7th season in 2011 between M-Net (DStv 101) and Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) for the past four seasons.

Talk of firing Gareth Cliff who has been a judge on Idols since the second season, however only surfaced this week after he inadvertently pulled M-Net and Idols into a controversial national racism debate.

The 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.

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 that it is "reviewing" the often controversial and outspoken personality's 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".

Gareth Cliff who in 2009 also had a one season long prime time talk show on M-Net is now apparently no longer welcome at M-Net who doesn't want Gareth Cliff to be associated with Idols going forward.

M-Net, as a premium pay-TV service and channels provider to MultiChoice's DStv satellite pay-TV platform, is highly protective of its channels and show brands.

M-Net that's in the entertainment creation business this week became fearful of possible brand damage and alarmed over ongoing viewer criticism that it might not be able to stem or manage if Gareth Cliff remained connected to Idols through having a seat as a judge.

Pay-TV broadcaster M-Net's move to sever Idols ties with Gareth Cliff was a commercial decision about how to best protect M-Net and the local version of Idols produced by [SIC] Entertainment in South Africa of the format belonging to FremantleMedia.

Gareth Cliff's management was informed that there will no longer be a contract forthcoming to sign for the 12th season of Idols.

M-Net has now also implemented a zero tolerance policy over damaging online and social media comments and utterances that might implicate and damage M-Net and any of its brands and is informing all on-air talent about it.

The swift removal of Gareth Cliff comes in the wake of the Idols judge who waded into the highly controversial 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.

According to sources there is anger in Camp Cliff over the firing, similar to when Viacom International Media Networks' (VIMN Africa) Comedy Central (DStv 122) channel decided to drop the on-air simulcast of Gareth Cliff's CliffCentral show in June 2014 just a month and a half after it launched.

Fellow Idols judge Somizi Mhlongo also ignited a race controversy in mid-December and was forced to very quickly apologise for his "racist white South Africans" comment that drew widespread criticism and a massive backlash from people, including former M-Net presenter and radio DJ Mark Pilgrim.

In 2010 an Idols race row erupted over the Idols judge Mara Louw's comments, with M-Net and Idols and Mara Louw who severed ties in 2011.

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".