The court battle between M-Net and axed Idols judge Gareth Cliff has nothing to do with whether the shock jock is a racist – it is a contractual dispute.
Both parties agree that Cliff is not a racist, Advocate Dali Mpofu said on behalf of Cliff in the Johannesburg High Court on Tuesday (26/02/2016).
Mpofu said the matter was about the enforcement of contractual right. He said a contract existed between Cliff and M-Net and in terminating the contract, M-Net violated Cliff’s constitutional rights.
M-Net axed Cliff as a judge for the 12th season of the South African version of the talent show earlier this month after a public outcry over a remark he posted on social media. In the aftermath of the Penny Sparrow racism row, Cliff tweeted that “people don’t understand free speech at all”.
Cliff is asking for reinstatement or alternatively wants R25 million in damages for defamation of character and the termination of his contract.
The first auditions for the show are due to be held in Durban on Saturday (30-01-2016).
Mpofu said an oral contract was just as binding as a written contract.
He led the court through a series of e-mails exchanged between Cliff and M-Net in December in which M-Net informed Cliff that his contract to be a judge on the upcoming season of Idols would be sent to him once it was in hand. The e-mails contained dates of this year’s auditions for the show and also promised Cliff a 6% increase in pay to R377,530.
Mpofu said M-Net would have to explain whether it cancelled Cliff’s contract because he breached some clause in it or because of the tweet.
He also said M-Net did not meet the requirements for termination in the contract because it failed to give notice of the termination, reasons for it and make a payment.
Had it not been for the tweet, the parties would have carried with business as usual, he said.