Gareth Cliff and M-Net 'had contract'
Johannesburg High Court judge Caroline Nicholls on Friday found that it was “disingenuous” of M-Net to deny that an agreement existed between Idols judge Gareth Cliff and the broadcaster.
Cliff had this week asked the court to order M-Net to reinstate him as Idols judge or pay him R25-million in damages for defamation of character and the termination of his contract.
M-Net axed Cliff as a judge for the 12th season of the South African version of the reality talent show earlier this month after a public outcry over a remark he posted on social network Twitter. In the wake of the Penny Sparrow racism row‚ Cliff tweeted that "people don't understand free speech at all".
Nicholls said if one had regard to the e-mails exchanged between Cliff’s agent and M-Net‚ it was clear there had been previous discussions regarding this year’s season of Idols and Cliff’s participation in it.
“It is disingenuous of M-Net to now refute the existence of an agreement between the parties. On their own version they were informed by previous practice and Cliff would have been provided with the written contract 'once it was in hand'.
“If not an oral agreement‚ then there was a tacit agreement that Cliff would be an Idols judge. The conduct of both parties is evidence of this‚” Nicholls said.
Advocate Wim Trengove had argued on behalf of M-Net that no contract had been entered into between the parties yet‚ while Advocate Dali Mpofu‚ for Cliff‚ had said that a contract existed and M-Net terminated it irregularly.
Nicholls said that although there had been no agreement signed yet‚ both parties conducted themselves as though Cliff’s position as an Idols judge was a “foregone conclusion”.
“I am of the view that the communication between the parties as well as their conduct is supportive of Cliff’s contention that a contractual relationship between M-Net and Cliff existed‚” Nicholls found.
She ordered that Cliff be reinstated as an Idols judge.
Nicholls found that there was merit in Cliff’s submission that he had a reasonable apprehension of suffering irreparable harm.
“Essentially‚ his brand is jeopardised. The view that his tweet was racist‚ either rightly or wrongly‚ will gain traction.”
She said there was no factual basis to the claim that the Idols brand would suffer if Cliff were to be reinstated on a temporary basis.
It also could not be ignored that Cliff’s value as an Idols judge had been his tendency to shock and provoke‚ “an image M-Net has apparently supported or certainly overlooked until now”‚ Nicholls said.
Speaking outside court‚ Cliff said his legal team would study the judgment‚ but he was pleased with the outcome.
His attorney‚ Eric Mabuza‚ said the judgment indicated that everyone was equal before the law.
“We’ve always been confident about the case. [T]his [Cliff's firing] was a travesty of justice.”
He said Cliff would not be part of the preliminary auditions on Saturday‚ but would be present at the main auditions on February 3.