South China Morning Post sells to Alibaba, paywall to drop as title eyes global audience

SCMPChinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has acquired South China Morning Post, confirming reports a fortnight ago that billionaire owner Jack Ma was in talks to buy the 112 year-old Hong Kong English language newspaper.

The deal will help the Post fulfil long-held ambitions to be a global English-language window for the world into China, and to that end the newspaper is to scrap its 10 year-old paywall.

Joseph Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group, told the SCMP in an interview: “The paywall is so inconvenient, even for people who want to pay, there is friction. Why not make content more accessible to anybody who wants to come on a global basis, on a mobile app, on a mobile phone? That is our philosophy,” he told the Post.

“It’s a very internet company philosophy because we believe users should not pay for service or content – the people who end up paying are advertisers who want to reach out to these users,” he said.

Tsai indicated that Alibaba is to invest heavily in the Post’s digital offering, but added that the print edition is to remain intact.

“Some say the newspaper industry is a sunset industry. We don’t see it that way. We see it as an opportunity to use our technological expertise and our digital assets to distribute news in a way that has never been done before,” he said.

Tsai also stressed that the Post would maintain its editorial independence. Media watchers have criticised SCMP for a creeping pro-Beijing bias in recent years, particularly in its editorials in the print edition.

Tsai commented: “We have to have the readers’ trust. That will depend on reporting that is objective, balanced and fair. If we don’t have that trust, we cannot build up our readership. Even though we are the corporate owner, we will let the editors decide the editorial policy and direction of coverage for any story. That’s our basic principle.”

He added that Alibaba would benefit from giving the paper free rein “to provide objective and nuanced greater China coverage to readers globally.”

Coverage of China by the Western press was covered through a “very particular lens” and the Post would seek to “tell the truth” about the world’s second largest economy.

He said: “China is a rising economy and it is the second-largest economy in the world. People should learn more about China, [but] the coverage about China should be balanced and fair.”

“Today when I see mainstream western news organisations cover China, they cover it through a very particular lens. We believe things should be presented as they are. Present facts, tell the truth, and that is the principle that we are going to operate on,” said Tsai.

Alibaba takes ownership of the masthead from Malaysia’s Kerry Media, which bought a majority stake in SCMP Group in 1993. Prior to Kerry Media, the paper was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s New Corporation.


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