Going by the rumours and cagey official statements, we can assume that Alibaba boss Jack Ma is going to buy the South China Morning Post. The question is why.
One possibility is the Mainland fondness for imitation. Having copied the Amazon business model, he now wants to follow Jeff Bezos in owning a newspaper – and will presumably later launch his own rocket. Another theory is that the SCMP will fit in with his other media interests, even though they are Mainland, Chinese-language, web-based ‘platform’-type things that arguably do not complement a Hong Kong news outlet.
A third explanation is that he has basically been told to buy it. The current owners would obviously love to get rid of the paper: as an investment it has plummeted in value, while reconciling journalism with the pre-emptive shoe-shining of Beijing has been a nightmare. They can/will sell it only to someone approved by the Chinese government, which is now openly tightening its grip on Hong Kong.
The New York Times quotes a commentator as saying Ma could make the SCMP a top-quality paper or a Beijing mouthpiece…
Here’s a clue: the Communist Party has a knife pointed at the heart of his multi-billion Amazon/PayPal/Ebay-with-Chinese-characteristics concession. Jack Ma may well be a genius at reinventing and adapting American e-commerce concepts – and certainly at getting the Chinese consumer to embrace the once-alien idea of payment to/purchases from unseen strangers. But Alibaba’s success inevitably relies on Chinese corporatist state protection and Communist Party patronage. Beijing minimizes foreign or domestic competition and prods the banks into cooperating with the virtual payments process, and presumably the princeling kleptocracy takes a slice of the action along the way.
The Financial Times recalls Jack Ma’s record as an obedient servant of the party-state who will help jail journalists. He is no doubt a nice, decent, charitable ‘self-made’ guy – but this is China and either you do what the Communist Party says, or you do/have/are nothing.
Ma can rest assured that the SCMP is already house-trained (here’s your ‘Belt and Road’ blather du jour, by the way). Today’s reports local officials’ statement that the Hong Kong-Zhuhai Bridge might be delayed a year until 2017, because it is ‘huge and complicated’ and involves ‘technical challenges’. The story also says the link will cut travel time to the less-than-compelling destination of Zhuhai from three hours to 30 minutes, which is wrong – it’s currently a 70-minute ferry ride, and negotiating the bridge’s vast customs/immigration complex looks set to take half an hour.
If it stays still, that is. Some investigative work from (ex-SCMP) Howard Winn tells a different story. The monstrous white-elephant could be five years behind schedule, as engineers try to build the aforementioned border-crossing facilities on ‘toothpaste mud’. And even if that turns out to be too pessimistic, the tunnel sections at the other end of the link look just as screwed. The funny part, if you find billions of your tax dollars oozing out all over the seabed amusing, is that no-one’ll use the bridge anyway, so 2016, 2017, 2021 – who will notice or care?
I wonder if Jimmy Lai would consider buying the SCMP? That would really stir up the media scene in Hong Kong.
Outside Influence: The SCMP still turns up on Google & Bing’s News Search Engines Home Pages as a primary source of news article lines for Hong Kong and a frequent source for China. Even the decaying NYT sources from it. It’s an important tool for the United Front as overseas it’s still given space that the rags the CCP direct own can only dream about.
Hence the current owner(s) would only consider such a sale if they have already gotten out from every business interest in China, just as buying the SCMP was followed by a doubling down on investments over the boarder. Just the Kerry Group alone has benefited greatly from selling slices of the remaining the dignity of the rag. With such touchy “friends” it was always a gamble, balancing pissing of Beijing directly vs. pissing them off by creating a vacuum in the market for news(?) which some other less pro-Beijing source might step in to fill. Kuok will breath a sigh of relief to sell the rag onto someone Beijing approves of, particularly with Xi replacing Jiang, who was a bit more of an internationalist. If the sale is someone so desperate to please Xi Dada they’ll overpay, then so much the better.
So (as H Winn astutely reports) the hole isn’t big enough, the components don’t fit together very well, and there are leaks and subsidence: what’s new?
The PCMP could still be saved, since it has an established international reputation (just look at the competition!) and some of the journalists are fairly good at reporting the facts. But that would require HKG to recognise its importance and pull its finger out to protect it, which is not likely to happen in our lifetimes.
As it is, just translating Apple Daily and Next would improve it 100%.
I hope Ma buys the Pro China Sanitary Rag. So finally everybody can stop pretending that it is an independent paper with objective, reasonable reporting. That will speed up its demise considerably and make the world a better place.
Are you sure the rumour mill has got the right end of the stick about the South China Boring Peoples Daily, here Hemmers?
Are you sure Jack Ma isn’t involved purely because he’s helping the Kuok’s to flog it off cheap by listing it on Alibaba.com?
Wouldn’t be the first piece of dodgy cheap tat on there…
I was trying to think of journalists who were fired from the Post and never looked back but I couldn’t think of any. It seems to have a curse attached to it. A true Dungeon of Shame.
Not THE Jonathan Fenby, surely?
It seems that you’ve never looked back since leaving the Post, but then again, perhaps you weren’t fired.
It wasn’t such a bad rag when you edited it; it’s an absolute pile of crap now. But then you must know this.
Okay, now it’s clear Red Dragon is Qian Jin, is…
A cyclist from Stanley.
Jonathon Henby aka Doctor George aka Ntscmp et al being the usual bike rider troll. hehehe. Like it….. sometimes.
Maybe we’re all avatars of each other, Nimby, old bean.
@ Jonathan Fenby
He got progressively worse while at Quarry Bay and he’s consistently set lower benchmarks ever since.
I so hope that Harry will depict Jack Ma’s square head in a cartoon before he would be fired for doing so.
yep, and BBC World regularly holds up the s’Posed’s front page tattle as somehow the voice of the East, on it’s ‘What the papers say’ spot.
But then the BBC isn’t what it used to be either.
Jack = Sponge Bob Squarepants
QJ = Leon Richardson
Nury = Crystal Li
Diane Butler = Yonden TooToo
Kimmy = Bonnae etc etc etc….
You mention Dr. George.
What a rave from the grave.
Biggest tosser who ever walked God’s earth.