CAPE TOWN - M-Net's answering affidavit in the acrimonious TV divorce and resultant court case with the fired Idols judge Gareth Cliff reveals several surprising secrets and insights - like a 2016 Idols Theatre Week set at the Wild Coast and Gareth Cliff's middle name ... Rhydal!
M-Net says if it takes Gareth Cliff back on Idols that the pay-TV broadcaster believes he will now "poison" the show.
M-Net has finally filed an answering affidavit in the highly acrimonious TV divorce and resultant court case after abruptly firing Gareth Cliff as Idols judge who wants his job back, saying it can't and won't delay the upcoming start of the 12th season's auditions and that M-Net is seeking the immediate dismissal of his urgent court application with costs.
In the ugliest South African broadcasting court battle since the SABC and its chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng was forced to go to court in 2015 in multiple court cases, early 2016 suddenly pulled the Randburg-based pay-TV broadcaster into a legal and public image mess -- ironically coming in the year that M-Net will celebrate its illustrious 30th anniversary.
Gareth Cliff is suing M-Net for R25-million and wants his job back on the reality singing show after being abruptly fired for igniting a firestorm and a call to boycott M-Net, Idols and Mzansi Magic after he waded into the race debate that exploded after Penny Sparrow's racist comments.
Whereas Gareth Cliff's court application is 83 pages long, M-Net's answering affidavit runs to 141 pages.
Idols Theatre Week to take place at Wild Coast resort
M-Net reveals that its planned for the 12th season's dreaded Theatre Week of Idols in 2016 to take place at the Wild Coast resort. In the past few seasons it's always been held at Sun City.
M-Net cites wide-ranging social media research from external social media and media coverage companies, showing that " M-Net immediately became embroiled in the dispute as a result of its association with the applicant".
It means that M-Net was dragged into the public debate about racism in South Africa, through what Gareth Cliff tweeted when he tweeted about Penny Sparrow.
M-Net reveals that it received complaints from subscribers. "Subscribers wanted clarity on M-Net's continued association with Gareth Cliff".
"In relation to its brand image, and with less than a month to go before the start of Idols 2016 auditions, M-Net felt that it could not afford to become embroiled in the political and racial controversy surrounding Gareth Cliff's statements," says M-Net's CEO Yolisa Phahle in the affidavit.
First meeting with Gareth
M-Net CEO Yolisa Phahle reveals that she asked for a meeting with Gareth Cliff and that he showed up with his manager Rina Broomberg.
"I started the meeting by offering Gareth Cliff an opportunity to explain his controversial tweet and subsequent apology." Yolisa Phahle reveals that "I was informed by Rina Broomberg that she and Gareth Cliff were not there to answer questions".
Yolisa Phahle reveals M-Net's fear: "We were concerned that the statements made by him and the public backlash that his statements had attracted would have the effect of detracting from the Idols show and the M-Net brand".
"M-Net did not want to tarnish the upcoming season of Idols with a race controversy from the start. I told him that M-Net would not be able to include him in the judging panel for the upcoming season".
M-Net reveals that it offered Gareth Cliff the chance to "save face" by saying that he is voluntarily stepping away from Idols.
"I felt that it was important to give Gareth the opportunity to save face publicly by voluntarily stepping down from the show," says Yolisa Phahle in the affidavit. "He was not interested in issuing a joint statement".
"In the entertainment industry 'perceptions are everything' and public response underlies the very success or failure of that business," says Phahle.
M-Net says if Gareth Cliff is taken back as an Idols judge, M-Net and Idols face "the very real prospect that the negative sentiment surrounding him will continue and poison the success of the show. This could affect viewership numbers, which in turn affects the revenue that will be generated from broadcasting the show".
"The controversy relating to this matter is not going to go away," says Yolisa Phahle.
She says she had to take action "in the face of what I assessed to be a serious threat to M-Net's brand".
"The judges of Idols are carefully selected because of their ability to draw audiences and they are appointed to entertain and delight the public -- not to shock and offend them".
Gareth Cliff would have gotten a 6 percent raise for the 2016 12th season: R377,530.