Hong Kong's Most Prominent Global Newspaper Could Soon Come Under CCP State Control

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by Tyler Durden
Sunday, Nov 07, 2021 - 12:30 AM

Hong Kong's most globally visible and popular English language newspaper South China Morning Post could come under Chinese government control, as within the past days it's emerged that its owner Alibaba Group is in talks with Bauhinia Culture Holdings, a Chinese state-backed firm.

The talks which were widely reported at the end of this past week are secretive, with an Alibaba spokesperson later denying that there's any intent of a sale. SCMP’s CEO Gary Liu and the media organization's co-founder Joe Tsai sent a letter to employees after the reporting which originated in Bloomberg saying there are currently no plans for a change in ownership, denying the story.

Alibaba acquired SCMP in 2015 for Alibaba for $266 million.

But it's well-known that Alibaba has of late come under intense pressure from the Chinese government over a number of its media assets, also amid Jack Ma's own muzzling by Beijing following the great CCP tech crackdown which began in late 2019.

The rumors regarding Beijing's attempts to reign in SCMP have been swirling since last spring, for example when the following began to be reported

When Ma’s Alibaba Group acquired the South China Morning Post in 2015 from a Malaysian tycoon, amid increasing signs that Beijing was tightening control of Hong Kong, fears swirled that the new ownership would undermine the English-language broadsheet’s editorial independence. But Ma and Gary Liu, CEO of the paper since 2017, promised the Post would maintain its editorial independence. Now Chinese government regulators wary of Alibaba’s influence that spans from retail and finance to media, have ordered it to sell off its media assets, including the Post, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

And now fast-forward to November, and this past week, with Bloomberg detailing the following

A sale to Bauhinia would potentially assuage the government’s concerns, as it is fully state owned. It also bolstered its presence in Hong Kong’s media scene in April when it agreed to buy a stake in Phoenix Media Investment Holdings Ltd., owner of local broadcaster Phoenix TV.

Deliberations are ongoing and other state-backed entities could also consider submitting offers for SCMP, the people said. A deal may not materialize, they said.

If such a change in ownership were to eventually materialize, it would mean Hong Kong's most prominent international newspaper would be overseen by the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the former British colony, effectively bringing it under mainland state control.

HK activist groups are alarmed over the recent reports in an environment of a restrictive media and political clampdown...

This is further within a broader Hong Kong atmosphere of greatly tightened media control and censorship, particularly given that last month more legislation deemed an outworking of the 2020 national security law has gone into effect, which bans and penalizes media "found to be contrary to national security interests" - especially in the film and TV industry. Local China-backed censors have been reportedly cracking down on print media as well.