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‘Angry Twitter mob hijacked racism debate’: Gareth Cliff

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Controversial radio personality and former Idols SA judge Gareth Cliff on Thursday said he was disappointed that people were calling for a boycott against him following some backlash he’s received on Twitter for adding his views on the Penny Sparrow racist post debate.

“I am very disappointed how this agenda has been hijacked by an angry mob on Twitter,” he said.

Asked to give his comment on what was behind these sporadic race debates, Cliff said: “I think this is an ugly situation. It’s a conversation we absolutely need to have, but I believe it has gotten out of control. It’s not everybody in SA. It’s everybody on social media.”

“It’s a lot of hot-headed people who are very emotional. And when you are emotional you sometimes say things you don’t mean and I can vouch for that, having been on radio for so long,” he said.

Cliff came under fire earlier this week after he retweeted a poll that asked if racist social media posts should be treated as criminal acts.

He wrote: “People really don’t understand free speech at all.”

Users on Twitter started engaging with the radio DJ, who then elaborated on his stance.

“Freedom of speech means having the right to hear things you don’t agree with, not just things you do… Hate speech is very specifically defined in law,” he tweeted.

“Free speech is something we agreed to as a modern, open society… Free speech means you can say ‘F**k you’ to me. I can just as easily dismiss you as a moron.”

He tweeted an apology on Tuesday however, calling himself “an insensitive asshole”, stating he needed to “continue his education” in free and hate speech.


Speaking to News24, Cliff maintained he was not a racist and did not at all support Sparrow, who took to Facebook at the weekend and described black beachgoers as “monkeys”, in an apparent reaction to litter left behind at the beach after New Year’s celebrations.

“Anyone… who has been listening to me for the last 16 years would pretty much know where I stand and I do not have any support for Penny Sparrow. It irritates me that I have been conflated into an argument with a whole bunch of other people that I didn’t start and I wasn’t joining the wrong side of,” he said.

“I worked with M-Net for over ten years and suddenly people are calling on them to boycott me, as if I have been hiding some kind of latent, nasty personality for all of these shows.”

“Idols is a talent show about brilliant people in South Africa who deserve a stage and platform for their talent. The fact that a bunch of lunatics of Twitter are starting to make this about them! How dare they,” he said.

Cliff said while the freedom of speech issue was one that the nation needed to discuss, it was perhaps too soon to do start doing so now.

“I think my timing was off. The important thing here is that I did not say anything racist and I was not supporting anyone racist,” he said.

M-Net said it had made no decisions about Cliff’s future with the company.

“Gareth Cliff is not currently contracted to M-Net and we will be reviewing his future employment with the company,” said spokesperson Lani Lombard.

In the last few days, other high profile individuals, including TV personality Jo-Ann Strauss, eNCA news anchor Andrew Barnes and economist Chris Hart have found themselves embroiled in racial spats on Twitter. News24

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