Radio Personality, South African Entrepreneur and Idols Judge Gareth Cliff has set the facts straight about the ‘false’ spiked drink report, and made us a little more aware to sensationalized headlines and fake news in the process…


Sunday Times released a damming article reporting that in his new book, Cliff admits to spiking Mara Louw’s drink with vodka, which caused her to lose her job.

“Yes, I gave Mara that ‘spiked’ drink,” read the headline of an article about the Idols judges.

The paper reported that Gareth admitted in his new book that he “poured” the drink that led to Mara’s well-publicised erratic behaviour on the show.

On Sunday morning, the day of the Idols finale, Cliff woke up to the news headlines.

“Last Sunday I finished my last season as an Idols judge. The finale should have been about the winner, Noma, and the audience who love the show. The Sunday Times had other ideas.”

“Can you imagine – a false headline, focussed on a non-story from 6 seasons before, on the day we were about to finish a monumental eleventh season of this hit show?”

“I was furious.”

Cliff says that he is used to newspapers getting it wrong, twisting a line out of context, ‘concocting a provocative headline’ to sell enough of their papers to ‘stave off the inevitable decline of profitable print media.’

But what the Sunday Times had published was outrageous.

That headline made it sound like the radio personality was admitting to a crime. The article itself was full of factual inaccuracies that the Sunday Times have since admitted to.

Susan Smuts, Managing Editor of the Sunday Times sent this response to Cliffs lawyer, Eric Mabuza:

“Thank you for your letter dated November 28 2016, which was forwarded to me today. We concede that the subheading and the second paragraph misinterpreted what your client wrote in his book.”

“In particular we concede that your client did not write that he had cost Ms Louw her job or that he poured her a drink of vodka.”

But Cliff didn’t agree with their response.

“Misinterpreted? Either I said it or I didn’t. I didn’t, so there’s no interpretation necessary.”

“What the Sunday Times unleashed was a tirade of hysterical accusations and insults on social media that had me branded everything from a Bill Cosby-type date-rapist to a white man who cost a black woman her job.”

Social media has been lauded for the way it allows anyone with a social footprint to share their point of view. The trouble with anything that offers this kind of untethered “freedom” is that it often leads to untethered hate and a false headline accusing a  South African personality would do just that.

Instead of questioning ‘news’ headlines or asking the necessary questions around most topics… social media users default to mob mentality, jumping onto a band-wagon of criticism and outrage.

And this online tirade tends to last much longer the actual story.

Cliff says the sensationalized headline and fake story which caused the social media uproar, was all based on absolute nonsense, so all of it was totally unjustified.

I don’t mind taking responsibility for things that I HAVE done or things that I HAVE said, but this was made up. I’ve never spiked anyone’s drink, let alone a colleague twice my age.

The Huffington Post South Africa, Cosmopolitan Magazine, SABC, MTV Base, eNCA and other smaller publications joined in this slovenly mess by re-publishing the story as a fact.

“Not one journalist called me to fact check anything at all. Not a single one.”

“When we talk about fake news, this is what we mean.”

Cliff’s lawyers have asked for an unreserved apology from the Sunday Times but are still waiting for a published response.

“To sell their tawdry paper, they’re happy to damage reputations. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. Sad state of journalism…..”

The Sunday Times did however update the online article, in really small print, quietly added to the bottom of the original web-post which read:

“The headline has been amended. In a previous version of this article we also incorrectly stated that Cliff admitted pouring Louw a drink spiked with vodka. We retract those comments and apologise to Cliff.”

But the questions begs, how do you amend the thousands of printed newspapers which are sitting in homes, offices and the archives of history? Why is the online version of the article still live at all? And why have the smaller publications not removed their versions and apologized too?

Perhaps we as consumers need to be more responsible. Maybe we need to understand that not everything we read is true and fake news does not just live on click-bait sites.

There are plenty of things that are worth getting angry about. We certainly should seek justice and feel free to express opinions. However, before we jump on the bandwagon of criticism or outrage, we should weigh whether it’s worth engaging.

The next time you get ready to hit ‘’share’’ on a story for your own entertainment, ask yourself: Could there be more to this than I know? Or maybe its a question of morals and you should ask whether you would feel differently if it were you being publicly shamed?”

If yes, put down your phone, step away from the computer, and re-evaluate…

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Sources: Sunday Times | Gareth Cliff

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Brent Lindeque
About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and man in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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