Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group, Holding Ltd., has purchased the media assets of the SCMP Group Ltd. for $266 million. Among those assets is the 112-year-old English language newspaper, the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
The acquisition has brought with it concerns that it’ll affect the editorial independence of what is Hong Kong’s main English newspaper, especially when Alibaba has implied they’ll be using it to improve their and China’s image abroad.
“We feel that if people understand China better, they will understand our company better,” said Joseph C. Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman in a Q&A published on SCMP‘s website.
“That’s how it fits into our strategy — SCMP is uniquely positioned to help people around the world to understand China better. What is good for that understanding is also good for understanding Alibaba,” he said.
He went on to add comments that further raised eyebrows and concerns.
“A lot of journalists working with these Western media organizations may not agree with the system of governance in China, and that taints their view of coverage,” Tsai said. “We see things differently; we believe things should be presented as they are.”
See this video report on the purchase by Newsy Business below:
Tsai did add that Alibaba wasn’t going to interfere with SCMP’s editorial decisions, which seemed very much at odds with many statements made throughout his Q&A.
In the end, Tsai’s comments seem to have attracted more ‘tainted views’ from the Western media.
“Alibaba said the deal was fueled by a desire to improve China’s image, and offer an alternative to what it calls the biased lens of Western news outlets,” wrote David Barboza for The New York Times.
“While Alibaba said the Chinese government had no role in its deal to buy the Hong Kong newspaper, the company’s position aligns closely with that of the Communist Party, which has grown increasingly critical of the way Western news organizations cover China,” Barboza stated.
SCMP has, in the past, covered issues that Beijing is hyper-sensitive about, such as human rights, corruption, and democracy.
Being based in the former British colony, SCMP has largely been free to publish what it feels is newsworthy, and not have to deal with the strict censorship that controls the media on the mainland.
“I think it will be interesting to see if the existing reporters and editorial staff would like to continue to stay. It’s worth watching,” said James Sung, a political analyst at City University of Hong Kong, reported Reuters.
Alibaba was established in 1999 by the now politically well-connected Jack Ma. The company reportedly has links to former Party leader Jiang Zemin, plus other Party heavyweights. For more on that, see this China Uncensored report on Alibaba that was produced earlier this year: