China’s internet censors have shut down the South China Morning Post’s social media accounts, effectively eradicating the Hong Kong English-language newspaper’s online presence in the mainland.
The SCMP’s microblogs on Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo and its WeChat page used to post updates from the paper’s Chinese-language website, SCMPChinese.com (nanzao.com), which is blocked in the mainland.
But the newspaper’s official Sina Weibo page now leads viewers to an error message that reads, “Sorry, there is something wrong with the account you are currently trying to access, and it is temporarily inaccessible.”
A similar error message can be seen on what used to be SCMP’s Tencent Weibo page.
At SCMP’s official WeChat account, an empty shell is all that remains. All previous posts published on the page have been deleted.
If past history is any indication, the shutdown doesn’t appear temporary, and there is little chance that the accounts will be restored, Shanghai-based English-language website Shanghaiist reported Wednesday.
Launched in April 2013, SCMP’s Chinese portal, with its mix of translations from the English-language paper and original Chinese-language content, was hailed by the publisher as a major push into the digital space and into the wider Chinese market.
The US$266 million acquisition of the newspaper assets by Jack Ma Yun’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. in December has stoked fears that the SCMP’s independence would continue to be compromised, as Ma’s ties to the governing elite in Beijing are well-known, Shanghaiist said.
Following President Xi Jinping’s recent high-profile visits to state media outlets and his declaration that media outlets must be “surnamed Party” so they can achieve “correct guidance of public opinion” by “singing the main theme, transmitting positive energy”, influential weibo celebrity and former property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang wrote on his personal account that state media should serve the public, not the Communist Party.
One week later, China’s top internet watchdog shut down his social media accounts, where he had accumulated more than 37 million followers.
Like Ren, the SCMP was a powerful force on weibo.
In March 2015, it was named one of the most influential Hong Kong media sources on weibo for the second consecutive year in The Star of Weibo awards, organized annually by Sina Weibo.
Less than a year later, the SCMP appears to have lost its more than 500,000 followers on weibo overnight.
With a dwindling pool of English-language readers at home and its ability to penetrate mainland China now severely limited, the future looks bleak for the Post, Shanghaiist commented.
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