HONG KONG – China Media Capital, a RMB5 billion ($833 million) venture capital fund with connections to Rupert Murdoch, Time Warner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, has bought a stake in Caixin Media, one of China’s leading independent news organizations.
The size and the value of the stake were not revealed, though some media have reported that the holding is a controlling majority. Others say that CMC bought a 40% stake — which would make it the largest single holder — from state-controlled Zhejiang Daily Press Group.
CMC chairman Li Ruigang will become chairman of Caixin, it was announced Thursday at a Caixin-organized finance industry conference in Beijing.
CMC is operated by Li, who also heads Shanghai Media Group, one of the more entrepreneurial state-owned film and TV groups.
Caixin, was founded by former Knight Journalism fellow at Stanford University Hu Shuli, and is published online and offline, with Chinese and English-language editions. In its four year existence it has earned a reputation for tough investigative journalism, with major stories on the 2011 high speed rail crash, the sale of babies by officials in Henan, Alibaba’s ownership over online payment system Alipay, and probes into journalistic corruption.
CMC acquired the Chinese-language Star China channels previously run by News Corp., as well as Fortune Star, the world’s largest Chinese film library. It is also a co-investor in Oriental DreamWorks, the Shanghai-based offshoot of DreamWorks Animation. Earlier this year CMC and Time Warner announced that they would jointly explore media opportunities in China, with Time Warner putting some $50 million into the fund.
The implications of the stake sale, especially whether it bolsters or diminishes Caixin’s editorial independence, are currently unclear. While Li is clearly at home with Western capitalism, CMC itself has state backing (its investors include China Development Bank and Shanghai Dongfeng Huijin).
Zhejiang was understood to have been frustrated both by Caixin’s probing of government officials and its poor financial performance. Last year Zhejiang sold a portion of its holding, understood to be 10%, to China’s largest internet group, the Hong Kong-listed Tencent.
And the move comes at a time when the Chinese state is trying to increase its control over parts of the media. This week the government announced that quarter of a million journalists working for state-controlled media, must take weekly training courses and regularly sit Marxist ideology exams.