Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba has acquired English-language Hong Kong newspaper company South China Morning Post (SCMP) in an all-cash deal worth £175m, the parties have announced.
The media group behind SCMP was founded in 1903 and has had a series of wealthy private owners. The current proprietor, Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok, will now hand over the reins to Alibaba founder Jack Ma as part of the deal.
The arrangement has raised eyebrows among some media commentators in Asia as questions abound over the paper’s future editorial independence.
Leading spokesman from Alibaba have made assurances to soften the most dissenting voices, but some are still worried amid wider concerns around Beijing’s growing influence over the traditionally independently-minded Hong Kong.
Warwick Business School professor of strategic management Kamel Mellahi believes the concerns are “legitimate”.
“For sure, the editorial independence of SCMP is going to be tested. It will be interesting to see if the paper is going to carry on running articles that are critical of the Chinese government or offend powerful political or business actors,” he said.
“I think a lot of observers would be surprised if the SCMP does not take on a more pro-China stance in the future.”
But Mellahi also believes there are several ways in which the influence of Alibaba will be advantageous for SCMP.
“The takeover will likely bring SCMP to the digital age by leveraging Alibaba’s expertise and knowledge of the internet,” he said.
“Plus, one could see Alibaba boosting the readership and reach of SCMP by bundling access to the paper with a purchase of one of its various services. The bundling strategy can help boost the SCMP’s reach and revenue with little cost for Alibaba.”