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Alibaba Buys Newspaper To Shape China Coverage

Alibaba Group is buying a leading Hong Kong newspaper as part of a plan to influence perceptions of China beyond the nation’s borders.

The China-based e-commerce colossus is reportedly spending an estimated $266 million to purchase the media assets of the SCMP Group, which includes the South China Morning Post. The paper’s impact extends beyond its print circulation of only about 100,000, coloring Western perceptions of China because of its English language format and nearness to the Chinese mainland.

“There’s very little downside. Even if we lose money, it won’t be material,” Joseph C. Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, told The New York Times. “But the upside is quite interesting.”

Alibaba is interested in generating what it describes as fair and accurate depictions of China in the media. The impetus for the initiative comes in reaction against what Alibaba says is a biased portrayal of China by Western news outlets. Alibaba says unfair “negative” characterizations of China have a detrimental effect on how investors and others outside China view the company.

“Our business is so rooted in China, and touches so many aspects of the Chinese economy, that when people don’t really understand China and have the wrong perception of China, they also have a lot of misconceptions about Alibaba,” Tsai told The New York Times. “What’s good for China is also good for Alibaba.”

Critics of the acquisition have worried that Alibaba will compromise the paper’s editorial independence. In an open letter to the newspaper’s readers, Tsai disagreed with that notion, writing that the newspaper’s reporting would be objective and would include a “plurality of views when it comes to China coverage.”

Valued at more than $200 billion, Alibaba has expanded beyond e-commerce into industries that include finance, film, online video and social media. The fast-growing company also has acquired or invested in other media properties, including the China Business News.