Just a few days ago, Chinese online retail giant Alibaba announced the acquisition of the South China Morning Post for $266 million. On Thursday, the Australian Financial Review reported that Alibaba had also held talks to buy another Hong Kong-based newspaper called Ming Pao. Hours later, Alibaba spokesman Rico Ngai rubbished the reports, saying that the company was not in talks to buy Ming Pao.
Alibaba-Ming Pao talks began in July
Citing executives at both Alibaba and Ming Pao, sources told the AFR that discussions to acquire the Chinese-language daily began in July this year. Ming Pao’s financial situation has been deteriorating as users turn to online media. Sources told AFR that the Ming Pao deal was “more complicated and time-consuming” than the SCMP deal, so a final agreement was not imminent.
Though Ming Pao is considered a pro-Beijing newspaper, it has taken an independent stance on issues like democracy and human rights in mainland China. Many a times it has been critical of Beijing. If the Jack Ma-led company agrees to buy it, the move will raise serious concerns about press freedom in Hong Kong. China has been trying to tighten its grip on Hong Kong and silence dissenting voices.
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Alibaba buying media companies in line with Beijing’s policy
Alibaba founder Jack Ma has close ties with the Communist Party and the Chinese government. The Hangzhou-based company said last week its decision to buy the SCMP was fueled by “a desire to improve China’s image” globally. The English-language SCMP caters mainly to expats. The Chinese e-commerce giant as well as Beijing have accused the Western media outlets of painting a negative picture of China. The SCMP would now paint a rosier picture of China and its economy.
Willy Lam, a professor of Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the AFR that Jack Ma is building a media empire “in line with Beijing’s policy of projecting soft power around the world.” It is Beijing’s state-sponsored policy of using private companies to buy up media outlets. It will also help Alibaba win favors from policymakers in Beijing.