BEIJING • The website of the South China Morning Post (SCMP), a Hong Kong newspaper being acquired by Internet giant Alibaba, has become inaccessible in China as a series of high-level government meetings takes place in Beijing.
Attempts yesterday by Agence France-Presse in China to open the English- and Chinese-language sites returned error messages saying the pages could not be displayed.
The website was blocked starting on March 3, said security website GreatFire.org, which monitors online censorship in China. The Communist Party oversees a vast censorship system, dubbed the Great Firewall, that blocks sites or snuffs out Internet and TV content and commentary on topics deemed sensitive.
SCMP's Chinese-language public account on WeChat, a popular chat app, was inaccessible as well. Its account on China's Twitter-like Weibo had also disappeared by yesterday.
Asked about the apparent blocking of SCMP's social media accounts, China's Internet regulator said yesterday that Internet service providers were responsible for online content and had the right to shut down websites.
Alibaba's purchase of SCMP for US$266 million (S$366 million) has sparked fears that the paper will lose its independent voice, in what analysts see as a gradual erosion of press freedoms since Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
SCMP has not reported being blocked, and spokesman Michael Chu has not responded to repeated requests for comment in the past two days. Weibo Corp also did not respond to a request for comment. Tencent Holdings, which owns WeChat, declined to comment.
SCMP has been blocked before, for instance, during the "Occupy" protests. Foreign media including Reuters, the New York Times and Bloomberg are routinely blocked.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS