Alibaba Makes its Most Politically Sensitive Media Deal

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has agreed to buy Hong Kong’s 112- year old flagship English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) which according to Thomson Reuters, has a market value of $392 million.

"The SCMP has not had an editorial balance for more than a decade. We don’t think that will change under a mainland Chinese owner,” said an editor who has worked at the newspaper for more than a decade.

In 2013, a reporter for the Post quit after quoting Ma as having made remarks in support of Beijing’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Ma denied at the time that he had made such an assertion.

The financial details of the deal have not been disclosed, but it is considered as the most politically sensitive acquisition by the company till date.

This is not the first media deal that Alibaba is closing. Previously, it has acquired and invested in a growing portfolio of media and content companies. For example, in June, the company agreed to pay $194 million for an undisclosed stake in the China Business News, the domestic financial media firm.

However, this particular deal is likely to raise concerns in Hong Kong, where the South China Morning Post occupies an important position among the English-speaking elite who still dominate the former British colony.

Joe Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group, said in a letter to SCMP reader- “The SCMP has iconic status in the region, with a strong reputation internationally for the quality and credibility of its journalism over the years,”

He added, “like many print media, however, the SCMP faces challenges amid the dramatic changes in the way news is reported and distributed. But these changes play to Alibaba’s strengths, which is why we believe the two companies complement each other well.”

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Chinese-language dailies may be more influential than the Post, but the latter is considered as a rebel advocating press freedom under Chinese rule.