Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post has been bought by internet retail giant Alibaba. The $266m sale has raised questions about the future independence of the title and the role of Alibaba.
Alibaba announced the purchase in a statement shared on the Hong Kong Stock exchange. It has acquired SCMP Group – which owns several titles including South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong editions of Esquire, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar.
The acquisition has raised questions about the independence of China’s media after growing pressure on editorial staff in the region, particularly in Hong Kong which had previously seen greater freedom than mainland China.
However, Alibaba has stressed that it plans to use its online experience to introduce the paper’s content to a wider audience, rather than seek editorial influence. Joe Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman at Alibaba Group, said: “Our vision is to expand the SCMP’s readership globally through digital distribution and easier access to content.”
In response to questions about press censorship, Tsai also released a letter addressed to readers of the newspaper. He stressed that the SCMP will remain “objective, accurate and fair” and stated that: “Day-to-day editorial decisions will be driven by editors in the newsroom, not in the corporate boardroom.”
While these comments have not entirely silenced critics of the move, others are excited to see if the publishing group will prosper under the influence of Alibaba founder and renowned businessman Jack Ma.
Since its launch in 1999, Alibaba has grown to become the largest e-commerce company in China. Last year, the company acquired ChinaVision Media, which it later renamed Alibaba Pictures. The film company is now China’s largest, producing blockbuster hit Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.
Two years ago, Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO at Amazon, also acquired a publishing group. He paid $250m for The Washington Post.