Hong Kong’s free media seen compromised as China’s Alibaba buys SCMP

December 15, 2015 1:56 am0 commentsViews: 41
Internet company to deepen media reach beyond film assets and domestic Chinese media Alibaba will buy Hong Kong's largest English newspaper, the South China Morning Post, at a time when press freedom is a hot-button issue in the city. (Photo courtesy: wsj.com)

Internet company to deepen media reach beyond film assets and domestic Chinese media
Alibaba will buy Hong Kong’s largest English newspaper, the South China Morning Post, at a time when press freedom is a hot-button issue in the city. (Photo courtesy: wsj.com)

(TibetanReview.net, Dec14, 2015) – Amid concern over press freedom after attacks on journalists, reports of pressure on editorial staff from authorities and increasing self-censorship, China’s internet giant Alibaba has confirmed that it will buy Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper. “(Alibaba) has entered into a definite agreement to acquire the South China Morning Post (SCMP) and other media assets of SCMP Group Limited,” the AFP Dec 11 quoted the Chinese firm as saying in a statement.

The SCMP is seen as unique because it focuses on coverage of China in the English language. Numerous political scandals and human rights stories it has covered in China are off limits to mainland media, noted tvnewsroom.org Dec 12.

The AFP report noted that the once globally renowned paper, founded in 1903 and which has long given international readers an insider’s perspective on Hong Kong and China, had seen a decline in its profits and sales in recent years due to an industry-wide decline.

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

And readers’ trust appears set to dip further as Alibaba’s executive vice chairman Joe Tsai has, in an interview published on the SCMP website, accused western media of bias against China, saying that Alibaba would “see things differently”.

“A lot of journalists working with these western media organisations may not agree with the system of governance in China and that taints their view of coverage. We see things differently, we believe things should be presented as they are,” he has said.

The report cited political analyst Willy Lam as saying the move was part of a bigger push by China to influence Hong Kong’s media. “The public has good reason to be sceptical, simply because of the background of Jack Ma and the Alibaba group,” AFP quoted Lam, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies, as saying. He has said Ma and the firm were “very close” to the leadership in Beijing.

Lam, who had edited the paper’s China section from 1989 until he was dismissed in 2000 for his critical views of Chinese politics, has further said, “It is difficult to imagine he will tolerate critical articles which might reflect negatively on the Communist Party or on the Chinese political system in general.”

SCMP’s takeover by a mainland businessman is seen as only the latest in a series of moves by China to rein in Hong Kong free media. “There is evidence of a new Chinese government policy of trying to enhance control over Hong Kong through boosting mainland Chinese ownership of media here – two of the four TV stations have major shareholders who are Chinese businesses and this trend will continue,” Lam has said.

The SCMP had already made an editorial shift towards Beijing when Malaysia tycoon Robert Kuok’s Kerry Media bought a controlling interest in it in 1993. Before him, Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, also known for his pro-China stance, had bought it in 1987.

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