China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has completed its acquisition of the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s leading English language newspaper. One of its first actions following the takeover was to remove the paywall around the paper’s website.
The deal to sell the SCMP Group’s media businesses, which also includes the local editions of Harpers Bazaar, Esquire, Elle, Cosmopolitan and two Chinese-language websites, was approved by SCMP shareholders last month. The remaining listed company SCMP Group, focused largely on property investment, will be renamed Armada Holdings.
The acquisition by a mainland Chinese owner has raised widespread fears that the paper’s editorial independence will be compromised, and that free speech in Hong Kong will increasingly be aligned with government-dictated policies in mainland China. Such suggestions have been firmly denied by Joe Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba, who has said that the SCMP’s editorial decisions will not be made in the board room.
“Alibaba Group’s vision of bringing together SCMP’s heritage and editorial strength together with its technological prowess offers an assuring roadmap for SCMP’s passage into the digital realm with enhanced clarity and boosted confidence,” said Robin Hu, CEO of South China Morning Post Publishers.
“With the paywall removal, it paves the way for the SCMP to grow its readership globally. It is our firm belief that as China plays an increasingly critical role in world politics and the economy, a global community of China stakeholders will demand insightful and trusted news and commentaries from a within-the-region perspective,” said Tammy Tam, the paper’s editor-in-chief.
Alibaba is also believed to be examining an investment into Caixin, an investigative financial publication in China, which is close to completing a series C funding round with several institutional investors.
“Caixin’s biggest shareholder is China Media Capital. Tencent Holdings joined us during the Series B funding round. The latest attempt at raising funds has also attracted notable investors. After all transactions in the Series C round of funding are completed, Caixin and the investors concerned will fulfill all legal requirements regarding information disclosure,” Caixin said on its website.
It also said that existing and new investors “have agreed that our institutional arrangements – including a firewall that separates editorial content from the business side – and compliance with management procedures are necessary protections that ensure Caixin’s credibility.”