First SCMP, next Ming Pao: Alibaba said in buyout talks

December 17, 2015 13:19
Alibaba's Jack Ma is seen as close to China's top leaders, so his motives for pursuing Ming Pao may not be entirely commercial. Photos: Bloomberg, Ming Pao

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is reportedly in talks to buy the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao Daily.

The news comes just a week after the Chinese internet giant bought the city's main English-language daily, the South China Morning Post.

The Australian Financial Review, citing an unnamed source, said discussions to buy the Chinese-language paper, which also publishes in Canada, began in July and are ongoing.

The source, who has connections to propaganda authorities in mainland China, said Ming Pao was next on Alibaba's shopping list, but the transaction was likely to take some months to complete.

However, on Thursday afternoon, a public relations representative for Alibaba told EJ Insight that the firm was not in talks to acquire Ming Pao.

While considered generally pro-Beijing, Ming Pao, owned by Malaysian timber baron Tiong Hiew King, has taken a more independent stance on issues like democracy and human rights on the mainland.

"At times, it is still critical of Beijing," the report quoted Willy Lam Wo-lap, an adjunct professor of Chinese history and politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as saying.

"It remains an influential newspaper favored by intellectuals in Hong Kong."

If the deal goes ahead, it would raise concerns about the further erosion of press freedoms in Hong Kong, as Beijing looks to tighten its grip on the former British colony and silence dissenting voices, the AFR said.

Jack Ma Yun, Alibaba's founding chairman, is seen as close to China's top leaders.

On Tuesday, he defended his purchase of the SCMP and said the paper's independence would not be lessened under his ownership.

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