TOKYO • Top Nikkei executives yesterday vowed to respect the Financial Times' editorial independence after its surprise US$1.3 billion (S$1.76 billion) takeover raised fears about the Japanese media giant's plans for the prestigious British paper.
"We have no intention of changing the content or form of the Financial Times," Nikkei chairman Tsuneo Kita told reporters at a press briefing in Tokyo.
Chief executive Naotoshi Okada said: "We're going to preserve editorial independence... that is what we've told (them)."
The unlikely cross-border marriage announced on Thursday has sparked concerns about interference from the new owners at the storied salmon-pink business paper, which was founded in 1888.
Those fears were amplified by comments from Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari, who said the deal would translate into "more accurate" stories about his country to an international audience.
Japanese media are routinely criticised as timid in pursuit of investigative news, raising fears that the Nikkei's tendency to shy away from criticising big business could affect future FT stories. "I'm worried that the Financial Times could become like the Nikkei, and I hope that will not be the case," said Mr Goushi Kataoka, an economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research.
In Japan, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun - or Nikkei daily - is a must-read for executives and has a strong track record of financial scoops. With deep ties to corporate Japan, it is known among investors for market-moving previews of corporate earnings days in advance of companies' official announcements.
About 2.7 million copies of its morning edition are printed daily, while the afternoon version numbers 1.4 million copies.
The FT deal adds an internationally known brand and about 225,000 print copies to the Nikkei's arsenal as it eyes a battle with business powerhouses the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. Online, the Nikkei- FT marriage would catapult the group past the New York Times' 910,000 Internet subscribers.
The takeover also marks the culmination of decades of attempts by the Japanese household name to break into mainstream English-language media. The Nikkei bills itself as the world's biggest-selling business daily but it has remained unable to break out from its home base since starting life in 1876 as a commodities pricing report published by a trading company.
The deal is also the latest in a string of Japanese firms driven to look overseas to escape poor growth prospects from a rapidly aging domestic population. Flush with abundant bank funds available at near-zero interest rates and bolstered by stock markets at multi-year highs, Japan Inc is not short of capital to plough into overseas bids.
The Nikkei generated 300.6 billion yen (S$3.3 billion) in revenue last year, more than quadruple the FT Group. The Japanese media company's operating profit was more than triple the FT's £24 million (S$51 million). "For the Nikkei, it has suddenly transformed them into a global player," said Mr Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Japan. "Essentially, they've bought themselves a Premier League team."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG