Jack Ma vows to preserve SCMP's independence

Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma attends the opening ceremony of the second annual World Internet Conference in Wuzhen town of Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China, Dec 16, 2015.
Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma attends the opening ceremony of the second annual World Internet Conference in Wuzhen town of Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China, Dec 16, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

WUZHEN (China) • Chinese e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma yesterday said his company, Alibaba, would preserve the independence of the South China Morning Post (SCMP), amid criticism of its purchase of Hong Kong's premier English daily.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) quoted him as saying there was no basis to think the SCMP would lose editorial independence under the ownership of Alibaba.

"Trust us. Why do people have to think that if we have it, it will lose its independence? Why not with others?" Mr Ma told the WSJ on the sidelines of the World Internet Conference in the town of Wuzhen in coastal Zhejiang province.

"We also read the newspapers. We also want media independence and fairness. What basis is there that with us, there will be no more independence?

"In our hands, it should get even more respect and attention and not be persecuted."

Asked by the WSJ about critics who say his company would feel pressure from Beijing to change the daily's coverage, he said: "I think those people think too little of us."

Last Friday, Alibaba signed a deal to buy the SCMP from Malaysian "sugar king" Robert Kuok's family, which has controlled the paper since 1993.

The company said then that it would make the 112-year-old newspaper a "global media entity covering China for readers around the world".

But politics likely played a role in the purchase, with some observers asking if the paper's editorial independence would be compromised by an owner with links to the Beijing leadership and whose extensive business interests depend on those links.

On whether Alibaba was requested by the authorities to buy the paper, Mr Ma said: "I have always encountered speculation from other people. If I had to bother about what other people speculated about, how would I get anything done?"

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2015, with the headline 'Jack Ma vows to preserve SCMP's independence'. Print Edition | Subscribe