The purchase of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP) seven months ago was not simply a matter of business logic, press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders has said in a report entitled The Hidden Side of the Oligarchs.

“Business logic is far from being the only motive for this Chinese tycoon’s appetite for media acquisitions,” the NGO’s report last week of the acquisition of the English-language daily by Jack Ma’s Alibaba.

It quoted University of Hong Kong political scientist Willy Lam as saying that he was “convinced that Jack Ma is acting as a political proxy for the Chinese government and its goal of silencing the last independent media voices in the territory.” Lam was China Editor at the Post between 1989 and 2000.

Jack Ma. File Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“The problem is that few media owners, especially those with other business interests to be promoted by doing the government political favours, are choosing the less comfortable side,” the organisation said of the situation in Hong Kong.

The SCMP was bought by China’s Alibaba in December 2015.

Jimmy Lai. File photo: Todd Darling.

The watchdog also mentioned Jimmy Lai, which it describes as “still holding out” after “the Chinese authorities were extremely irritated by [the 2014 Occupy protests] calling for more democracy.” Lai founded Apple Daily and Next Digital, which backed the occupy protests.

Press freedom around the world and major oligarchs. Photo: Reporters Without Borders report.

‘Apology’ interview controversy 

Earlier this month, it published a controversial phone interview with a 24-year-old legal assistant Zhao Wei, who was detained by Chinese authorities on July 9, 2015. Although released on bail this July, no one had been able to contact Zhao until that time, which led to media experts and journalists to question how the paper was able to set up the interview.

In response, an emailed statement signed by “the editors” was sent to the Guardian, stating that “the South China Morning Post treats the protection of confidential sources as sacrosanct.” SCMP editors did not respond to emails from HKFP last week about the article.

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Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.