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South African online retailer Zando has threatened legal action against Ventureburn, a subsidiary of Burn Media, via its attorneys Webber Wentzel, following an article that was published on the site last week.
Zando’s online fashion store made serious waves after arriving in South Africa in late 2011. Since then, it claims it has grown to become South Africa’s largest online fashion player and is providing serious competition to the likes of established ecommerce players such as Kalahari and Takealot.
The company is a subsidiary of the German-based Rocket Internet, a startup incubator whose business model is to identify successful internet ideas and replicate them in other countries.
Last Wednesday, Memeburn published this piece on sister site Ventureburn about the resignation of Zando co-founder and managing director, Manuel Koser, and the possibility that he may have been pushed out due to lack of confidence from investors.
Zando’s legal letter states that the article contains “defamatory allegations” which were “published deliberately, recklessly and/or negligently by Ventureburn with the intention of harming Mr Koser’s constitutional and common law right to reputation”.
Ventureburn received confirmation of Koser’s resignation from Zando on Wednesday. A well-placed source, who asked to remain anonymous, then told the publication that Koser “had to leave”. This was added to the reporting of rumours that Koser and Zando investors had disagreed on certain issues, because we felt they provided important context to the story. Several other sources also confirmed this allegation.
On Thursday, Memeburn received comment from Zando saying it strongly denied the claims made in the Ventureburn article, despite not responding to Ventureburn’s repeated requests for comment before the allegation was originally published. Zando’s denial was then added to the article by Ventureburn’s editorial team.
According to Zando’s legal representation, Ventureburn had not previously sought a response to the allegations and had “belatedly” included its client’s response in an attempt to “remedy its defective article”. In fact, Ventureburn only received a response to its article about a day after the published article, and immediately published the company’s denials. Koser was also contacted for comment a day prior to the story’s release but Ventureburn received no immediate response regarding his resignation.
‘Flagrant breach of the basic tenants of journalism ethics’
The legal letter states Ventureburn’s article represented a “flagrant breach of the basic tenants of journalism ethics,” specifically that the article was based on “rumours” and not actual facts, and the word of a “single anonymous source who was not prepared to go on record”.
Ventureburn denies the above allegations and has responded through its attorneys.
Michelle Atagana, managing editor of Burn Media, on Tuesday released the following statement:
Our mission is to report on the activities of tech startups and entrepreneurial activity in South Africa and other emerging markets, which includes the good, the bad and the controversial. We are not a marketing site, but a site that reports activity in this sector as it happens. We have carried a variety articles, both positive and negative, about Zando and have great respect for the company. It is indeed a pity that they choose to engage us in this way.
We uphold the highest of journalism ethics at the company, which is testament to the online media company’s fast growth in its three years of existence. We will not be intimidated or cowed in our mission to report the truth and what is in the public interest. We are confident that our editorial staff followed the correct channels and procedures while reporting this story, which include the use of multiple sources and providing the company with the opportunity to respond to the allegations. We stand by the article.
Burn Media intends to contest the legal action launched against it.