BEIJING ORDERS JACK MA TO SELL SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST
As news broke that China is pressuring Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to sell the South China Morning Post (SCMP), surprised employees pondered the future of Hong Kong’s main English-language daily, Isabella Steger and Kari Soo Lindberg reported for Bloomberg News.
When Hangzhou-based Alibaba bought the SCMP in 2015 for $266 million, it injected much-needed cash into the operations and pledged that the century-old newspaper would retain editorial independence.
While the newspaper has come under steady criticism for a tilt toward Beijing under Alibaba, its journalists closely covered the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong while also publishing diverse opinions and coverage critical of China.
Now fears are growing among some staff members that a Chinese state-owned company could eventually take over from Alibaba and put the newspaper under Beijing’s thumb, according to an employee who asked not to be identified.
Such a move would mark one of the most significant blows yet to the city’s once free-wheeling media industry, where independent outlets have faced increasing pressure since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law last year.
“There is suspicion that if a Chinese entity takes it over, or a Chinese billionaire takes it over, that they’re going to change the editorial line,” said Keith Richburg, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong and president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong.
“This idea that the SCMP might be sold at a time when people in Beijing are talking about the need for ‘patriots’ to be running media entities is, I would say, very, very concerning.”
Beijing has moved to stifle Hong Kong’s democracy movement over the past year, rounding up dissidents and revamping the election system to give the Communist Party a veto on anyone who stands for office.
The move has been criticized by countries including the US and the UK, which this week said China was in a “state of ongoing non-compliance” with the treaty that paved the way for the 1997 handover of the former British colony -- drawing an angry response from Beijing.