M-Net is reviewing Gareth Cliff's future as one of the TV faces representing the pay-TV broadcaster with the outspoken personality who could possibly be dropped from his position as one of the Idols judges.
Gareth Cliff's ongoing inclusion as one of the four Idols judges for the reality singing competition that's been broadcast on M-Net's M-Net (DStv 101) and Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) channels is now in jeopardy after he became embroiled in the racist Penny Sparrow social media furore when the KwaZulu-Natal estate agent described black people as "a lot of monkeys" on Saturday.
Gareth Cliff, the creator of the internet radio station CliffCentral and a former SABC 5FM radio DJ, weighed in on the Penny Sparrow controversy, saying "People just don't understand free speech at all".
After Twitterati turned their anger on Gareth Cliff as well, sharply criticising him for seemingly supporting Penny Sparrow right to make racist comments, he apologised after calls for a boycott of M-Net's Idols and of CliffCentral.
On Tuesday Gareth Cliff apologised, saying on Twitter he's "been an insensitive asshole many times" and that "this whole saga with the idiotic comments of Penny Sparrow has upset me, but I must acknowledge the pain and anger of so many on Twitter who thought I would in any way condone the things she said".
"If you thought I was on the side of a racist, I assume we were all already in agreement about how you can't stand up for racism," he wrote.
"With regard to free speech and hate speech, I need to continue my education".
Now M-Net says Gareth Cliff's ongoing participation with Idols is being reviewed. It means that Gareth Cliff could be dropped as a judge for the 12th season of Idols that will start filming soon with the nationwide audition process kicking off on 30 January in Pretoria at The Playhouse.
"Gareth Cliff is not currently contracted to M-Net and we will be reviewing his future employment with the company," says Yolisa Phahle, M-Net CEO.
M-Net that hasn't yet confirmed the judges' line-up for the new Idols season will have to make a quick decision within the next two weeks or less.
The just-concluded season of Idols generated over 78 million votes – the bulk coming from social media platforms where the show has steadily been increasing its presence.
It means that M-Net and Idols are particularly sensitive to how the brands of the pay-TV broadcaster and the singing talent show are being perceived by social media users and DStv viewers.
There's also the possibility that Gareth Cliff's comments could dissuade some people from entering and going for an audition and change their attitude towards the show, which then impacts the production and actual making of the show and the available talent pool for the 12th season.