After weeks of rumors and speculations, Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba confirmed last Friday that it would buy Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post and other properties of the SCMP Group for $266 million. Alibaba has been aggressively expanding its media and entertainment empire. But now the Hangzhou-based company will use its might to reshape the global coverage of China, which has mostly been negative.
Alibaba to drop the SCMP’s paywall
Alibaba has strong ties with the Communist Party and the Chinese government. In an open letter, the online retailer said it would drop the SCMP’s paywall, allowing people from across the globe to read its stories for free. Alibaba said it wants SCMP to keep offering “fair and accurate” reporting, but added that the acquisition was “fueled by a desire to improve China’s image” and offer an alternative to the “biased lens” of Western media.
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That’s why experts fear that SCMP’s acquisition may compromise its editorial freedom. While SCMP has rarely taken an anti-Beijing stance, some of its stories in the past might irk the Communist Party. Last year, the newspaper strongly covered the Hong Kong democracy protests. Beijing was elated by Alibaba’s decision to buy the SCMP. Wang Wen, a former editor of the Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times, told the New York Times, “This is an attempt by the country’s social power to alter the country’s image.”
Negative reporting about China hurting Alibaba stock
The Jack Ma-led company argues that negative reporting about China by Western media outlets hurts its stock, which is listed at the New York Stock Exchange. The move may bring Alibaba even closer to the government, helping it win points with policymakers. According to a former editor at the SCMP, its digital version attracts about 30 million views per month.
Over the past few years, the Chinese government has been influencing media coverage by blocking websites of outlets that take negative views of China. Beijing has also expanded the state-run media outlets like China Daily, and CCTV in international markets to change the perception about China.