Over the past years, Jack Ma has accumulated a media portfolio in China. But now the future of Jack Ma’s media empire is dependent on the Chinese government, which is now wary of the billionaire’s increasing media influence.
The Chinese government has ordered Alibaba to divest some of its media assets due to growing concerns about the company’s power over public opinion in the country, said media reports quoting sources.
Alibaba’s expeditions in media investments had come under vigilance when the company announced the buyout of the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper launched about 118 years ago in Hong Kong. Alibaba’s media assets in mainland China include the New York-listed technology news site 36 Kr (Swedish krona), which is financed by Ant Group, Alibaba’s fintech affiliate, and Shanghai Media Group is state-owned, with a strategic agreement with the Alibaba group.
As critics questioned Alibaba’s stake in the South China Morning Post, a prominent paper in Asia, to mitigate worries, Jack Ma has vowed to preserve the news outlet’s editorial independence.
In other media-related deals, Alibaba often focuses on the potential for digital collaboration with the publications. Alibaba has even vowed to utilize its data and cloud computing expertise to aid the Shanghai Media Group, an influential financial media firm, develop a financial data platform.
Alibaba has also sought out new media startups, taking considerable stakes in China’s Twitter equivalent, Weibo, and a video site popular amongst Chinese youths, Bilibili, which tallies Alibaba’s competitor Tencent as a major shareholder.
The major concerns increased when Weibo seemed to have deleted many posts about an extramarital affair of an Alibaba executive last June. Soon after that, China’s top internet regulator chided Weibo for interfering with the online communication law without identifying the case.
The Chinese government has already instigated some restrictions on the power in the internet economy. In December 2020, the antitrust regulators slammed a fine on Alibaba and Tencent respectively for failing to report earlier acquisitions for clearance. Though the world still waits to witness which of Alibaba’s prized media assets need to be released.