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Jack Ma

Alibaba’s Jack Ma reveals why he bought the South China Morning Post and what he wants to do with it

Readers deserve a fair chance to understand what is happening in China, says Alibaba founder Jack Ma in the second of our two-part series as he shares his vision for his new acquisition and discusses Hong Kong’s unique position

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 April, 2016, 8:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 April, 2016, 4:23pm

Just why does Jack Ma want to own a newspaper, and what will he do with it?

Those are the biggest questions that have confronted readers of the South China Morning Post since news broke of Alibaba Group’s acquisition of the 113-year-old English-language newspaper late last year.

Now, for the first time since the Chinese e-commerce giant’s takeover earlier this month, Ma has outlined his vision for the paper.

Alibaba’s Jack Ma on China’s economy, Hong Kong and the South China Morning Post: full Q&A

The acquisition has raised eyebrows, with some suggesting that the Post – which has for decades been reporting aggressively on China – would change its direction.

A few even believed the paper might henceforth gloss over sensitive or controversial issues that risked incurring the wrath of the Chinese leadership.

In a face-to-face interview with the Post in Hangzhou, eastern Zhejiang province, Ma addressed these concerns, explaining why he believed in having a narrative on China that was different from that of both the mainstream Western media and Chinese state media.

“I don’t see it as an issue of [coverage] being ‘positive or negative’,” the Alibaba executive chairman said. “It is about being impartial and balanced … We should offer a fair chance to readers [to understand what is happening in China], not just a fair chance to China.”

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As a reader, Ma said, he valued the importance of obtaining unbiased information in order to draw his own conclusion based on the undistorted facts presented to him.

“I believe the most important thing for the media is to be objective, fair and balanced. We should not report a story with preconceptions or prejudice,” he said.

With its access to Alibaba’s resources, data and all the relationships in our ecosystem, the Post can report on Asia and China more accurately compared with other media who have no such access
Jack Ma

“Sometimes, people look at things purely from a Western or an Eastern perspective – that is one-sided. What the Post can do is to understand the big ‘why’ behind a story and its cultural context.

“I want to stress the importance of being fair to our readers. You should not impose your own view and prejudice on the readers and try to lead them to a conclusion. As a reader, I understand what a fair report is.”

The tech tycoon said his vision was to transform the Post into a global media agency with the help of Alibaba’s technology and resources.

“With its access to Alibaba’s resources, data and all the relationships in our ecosystem, the Post can report on Asia and China more accurately compared with other media who have no such access,” he said.

Alibaba, the world’s biggest online trading platform, is aggressively developing big-data and cloud technology. Every day, it analyses and processes a massive volume of data that can provide powerful insight into the world’s second largest economy.

Ma reiterated his promise that Alibaba’s management would not take part in the Post’s newsroom operations. Rather, it wanted to represent readers’ interests and give feedback on how to improve readers’ experience, he said.

“As I said to Joe [Tsai], you are going to the Post as a representative of its readers. You don’t have to represent shareholders. You speak for the readers,” Ma said, referring to Alibaba’s executive vice-chairman who is now the chairman of the Post.

WATCH: Jack Ma of Alibaba says “we should be fair to our readers” when reporting on China

Ma, who last year unveiled a HK$1 billion fund to help Hong Kong’s young entrepreneurs start up their businesses, said he invested in the Post because he “loves Hong Kong”.

Hong Kong was stuck in a rut and in danger of losing its direction, the billionaire said, urging Hong Kong’s youth to hold on to the city’s uniqueness and have faith in its future.

“The city has lost its can-do spirit. The big businesses are less willing to take risks. I talked to some young people in Hong Kong and they said they are lost. Young people indeed have fewer opportunities than before. But is it true that there are no more opportunities for them? No!” he said.

Paywall down as Alibaba takes ownership of SCMP

Hong Kong had many strengths that were unique to the city, Ma said.

“It has the best location. The ‘one country, two systems’ allows it to enjoy the good things from China’s growth and the best things from the West … The quality of Hong Kong’s graduates can match the finest from any other city. Its services industry is first class,” he said.

“Hong Kong people say Hong Kong needs to preserve its uniqueness. I say Hong Kong’s uniqueness is in its diversity, its tolerance of difference cultures … China does not want to see Hong Kong in decline. I have full confidence in its future.”