Alibaba Confirms Purchase Of $266m South China Morning Post

December 14, 2015

NewsStandOnline.Net (14-December-2015): Chinese internet giant Alibaba will pay $266 million for Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, the newspaper said earlier today, in an acquisition that has sparked fears the paper will lose its independent voice.

The deal comes at a time when concern over press freedom in Hong Kong is growing after attacks on journalists, reports of pressure on editorial staff from authorities and increasing self-censorship.

Alibaba “has agreed to purchase the media business of the (SCMP) Group for a cash consideration of HK$2,060,600,000”, the newspaper said in a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

SCMP Group also owns the Hong Kong editions of magazines Esquire, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar.

The Chinese firm announced the purchase on Friday, saying it would use its “digital expertise” to provide “comprehensive and insightful news and analysis of the big stories in Hong Kong and China”.

Alibaba Confirms Purchase Of $262m South China Morning Post

In a letter to the newspaper’s readers following the announcement of the sale, Alibaba executive vice chairman Joe Tsai vowed the SCMP would be “objective, accurate and fair” and have “the courage to go against conventional wisdom”.

In an interview published on the SCMP website, however, Tsai accused western media of bias against China, saying that Alibaba would “see things differently”, a statement likely to stoke critics’ concern.

The once globally renowned English-language paper was founded in 1903 and has long given international readers an insider’s perspective on Hong Kong and the mainland, but profits and sales have in recent years been hit by an industry-wide decline.

Though it has a relatively small readership, with around 104,000 print and digital subscribers by the end of 2014, it retained an outsize influence for its coverage of the mainland and willingness to broach controversial topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing.

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch bought the SCMP in 1987, taking it private.

In 1993, Malaysia tycoon Robert Kuok’s Kerry Media bought a controlling interest, prompting an editorial shift towards Beijing.

Readers’ trust has also dipped as the more pro-Beijing editorial policy has not gone unnoticed in a city that saw tens of thousands take to the streets last year to protest against mainland interference.

Hong Kong is semi-autonomous after being handed back to China by Britain in 1997 and retains freedoms unseen on the mainland.

However, there are fears that those freedoms are being eroded, particularly since last year’s mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and the rejection of China’s political reform package in June, an unprecedented rebuke to Beijing.

Despite the fears over the newspaper’s editorial independence, some have said the SCMP could prosper from Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s Midas touch.

The tycoon launched Alibaba in 1999 and under his stewardship it has become China’s biggest e-commerce company, operating consumer-to-consumer platform Taobao, which is estimated to hold more than 90% the mainland market.

It has also branched out, buying ChinaVision Media in 2014 and renaming it Alibaba Pictures, today China’s biggest film company, which produced this year’s blockbuster “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”.