The future of Asia’s leading English language newspaper is in doubt after reports Beijing has told Jack Ma’s Alibaba to shed its media assets.
Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post has been owned by the e-commerce giant since 2015, while Alibaba also has other notable media assets including stakes in China’s Twitter-like Weibo and some popular Chinese digital and print news outlets.
The move marks the latest of run-ins between Alibaba and Beijing since the Chinese government last November curtailed what would have been the world’s largest flotation, of its fintech arm Ant Group.
Officials are concerned about the tech giant’s sway over public opinion and see its influence as a serious challenge to China’s communist party and its own propaganda tools, reported the Wall Street Journal. It said discussions have been held since early this year after regulators reviewed a list of its media assets, adding it is not clear if Alibaba will need to shed all of the investments and any plans will need approval from China’s senior leadership.
News “spread like wildfire” through the SCMP, according to a staff member. Questions, however, have been raised over how much of a priority the newspaper will be for regulators, given it is blocked in the mainland as an overseas-based outlet.
The 117-year-old broadsheet – formerly owned by Rupert Murdoch – was bought by Mr Ma for HK$2bn in 2015. The billionaire said he wanted to transform it into a global media agency with the help of Alibaba’s technology and resources, while stating he did not intend to influence newsroom operations.
Alibaba declined to comment further than a statement in the WSJ, which said: “The purpose of our investments in these companies is to provide technology support for their business upgrade and drive commercial synergies with our core commerce businesses. We do not intervene or get involved in the companies’ day-to-day operations or editorial decisions”.