Jack Ma wants everyone to understand he really, really isn’t going to interfere with editorial decisions at his new toy, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
Earlier this month, Alibaba Group Holdings, the e-commerce giant that Ma founded and still chairs, bought Hong Kong’s oldest English paper.
Pretty much since the moment he signed the $266 million check critics have questioned Ma’s motives and Alibaba’s intentions for the paper.
Many have suggested that the second richest man in China is trying to buy influence with the Chinese government by maybe putting a muzzle on one of the main mouthpieces in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous former British colony that enjoys a high degree of press freedom.
In an interview with the SCMP posted on its website Thursday, Ma said, “The more I come to know about the outside world’s perception of China, the more I feel there are all sorts of misunderstandings and, to a certain extent, people do not get the full picture from the media. A lot of foreigners have few opportunities to visit China, and a lot of Chinese people do not have the chance to go to Europe or to the West. There is an immediate opportunity for us to bridge this gap as a responsible media outlet. What a publication can do is to help people get a clearer picture without jumping to any rash conclusion.”
When asked if the paper would be positive or gloss over tough issues with China, he said, “I’m not a journalist … The paper’s China coverage should be objective, reasonable and impartial.
“I have neither the experience nor desire to interfere with the newsroom operation. I will not take part in the editorial decision-making,” he said, but added he would participate and give feedback as a reader.
Yeah, this was the part we were looking for. Participating as a reader who has a lot of financial interests in China that need to stay on the government’s good side. And it looks like he may be making a big effort to help get out the good word about China.
According to AllChinaTech.com, Ma has become a mogul in the style of Rupert Murdoch. It reported Ma has a stake in the following media companies:
- In April 2013, Alibaba made a strategic investment in e-Business review, a Chinese magazine modeled after the Harvard Business Review.
- In March 2014, Alibaba took a 60%, $800 million stake in China Vision Media – now renamed Ali Pictures.
- In May 2014, Alibaba’s subsidiary Yunxin Investment Management was reported to have acquired a 40% stake in Huxiu.com, one of China’s leading technology blogs for business information and commentary.
- In June 2015, Alibaba invested 1.2 billion yuan for a 30% stake in China Business News, a financial TV and newspaper company that is part of the Shanghai Media Group.
- In September 2015, Alibaba began cooperating with Chinese financial magazine company Caixin to launch Wujie Media, an online-only news provider.
- In October 2015, Alibaba partnered with Sichuan Daily to launch the online media property Fengmian Media.
It wouldn’t take much for Hong Kong residents and journalists to believe Ma is in the government’s pocket. According to a March survey, they already believe the state of press freedom deteriorated in the city for a second straight year in 2015, apparently a reflection of general unease in the city about mainland Chinese control, Reuters said.
Of course, it you really want objective, reasonable and impartial coverage of China, without even the suggestion of government fingers typing on the keyboards, you could just keep reading the Asia Times.