- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - A comment by a judge in South Africa’s “Idols” television show stirred a national conversation, and it had nothing to do with music.

South African television network M-Net dropped Gareth Cliff from its judging panel for the reality singing competition after a tweet that some South Africans thought was racist. Cliff, who said his tweet was not racist and was instead a defense of free speech, then won a court case against M-Net and was reinstated on Idols South Africa.

Cliff, who is white, said Saturday that South Africa, which emerged from white minority rule in 1994, should continue a civil discussion about race.

The judge on the 12th season of South Africa’s version of the international franchise also said: “The show will go on.”

Auditions are currently underway.

The uproar over Cliff began after a South African white woman, Penny Sparrow, said in a Facebook post that black beachgoers celebrating the new year were making a mess and described them as “monkeys.”

Many South Africans were outraged by the remarks and there were calls to prosecute Sparrow and introduce a new law that would criminalize comments deemed to be racist.

Cliff, a radio and television host, was dismissed as an Idols judge after tweeting: “People really don’t understand free speech at all.”

“We do not believe that Gareth is a racist but his response showed a lack of empathy for our history and it is important to differentiate between freedom of speech and hate speech,” M-Net said in a statement.

The network had to backtrack after a judge in Johannesburg ruled that Cliff should be reinstated because M-Net had a contractual relationship with him. The company was also ordered to pay his legal costs.


Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris

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