Beijing is calling on Alibaba Group Holdings to dispense with some of its media holdings, including the South China Morning Post, according to multiple reports.
Bloomberg reported that Alibaba’s influence in the Chinese media landscape has been viewed unfavorably by top brass. Officials were increasingly alarmed after posts about a scandal involving an Alibaba partner began disappearing from social media platforms, including Weibo, in the spring of 2020.
Last December, NASDAQ.com reported that China’s antitrust regulators had begun to investigate Alibaba and its assets, which include large holdings in Weibo, Bilibili and financial media company Yicai.
Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, acquired the 117-year-old newspaper in late 2015. At the time, Ma stated that his reason for buying SCMP (for USD266 million) was to ensure an impartial voice could report on China to the rest of the world.
Ma insisted that Alibaba’s management would not interfere in the editorial independence of the newsroom. Initially, some skepticism was expressed by staff and readers, but SCMP has continued to report on a wide range of topics in the region.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese officials have not specified which media holdings need to be relinquished. One SCMP reporter, who requested not to be named, told Quartz that they would leave the paper if it came under state control.
An internal email from SCMP CEO Gary Liu attempted to ease the tensions and stated that the impending sale of SCMP was all ‘rumors and insinuation.’
Any plan Alibaba puts forth regarding the sale of media assets will need to be approved by China’s senior leadership, as cited by WSJ.
[Cover image via @宅姐说科技/Weibo]