China orders Jack Ma to dispose of its media assets

Taking its war against billionaire Jack Ma’s empire to a new level, the Chinese government has reportedly asked his conglomerate Alibaba to dispose of its media assets.

According to a The Wall Street Journal report citing people familiar with the matter, Chinese officials are more “concerned about the technology giant’s sway over public opinion in the country”.

Alibaba expanded its footprint in the media sector by acquiring the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper launched 118 years ago in Hong Kong.

The company also has notable media holdings in mainland China, including technology news site 36Kr, state-owned Shanghai Media Group, stakes in the Twitter-like Weibo platform and several popular Chinese digital and print news outlets.

“Alibaba has also set up joint ventures or partnerships with powerful state-run media like Xinhua News Agency and local government-run newspaper groups in Zhejiang and Sichuan provinces,” the report said on Monday.

Angry at Ma’s public criticism of Chinese financial regulators last year, the company scuttled the initial public offering (IPO) of his fintech giant Ant Group.

China’s top market watchdog began investigation into alleged anti-competition practices by the e-commerce giant Alibaba and also laid out “rectification plan” for Ma’s fintech venture.

The agenda was that Ant Group should return to its roots in payments and bring more transparency to transactions.

Ma later disappeared from the public view, triggering speculation of him going “missing”. He was seen only in January when a video of him appeared on Chinese social media.

According to the WSJ report, Chinese regulators are “appalled at how expansive Alibaba’s media interests have become and asked the company to come up with a plan to substantially curtail its media holdings” the people said.

“The government didn’t specify which assets would need to be unloaded”.

Alibaba was yet to react to the report.

Alibaba’s holdings in publicly listed companies had a combined market value of more than $8 billion.

“That includes a roughly $3.5 billion stake in Weibo Corp. and a nearly $2.6 billion stake in Bilibili Inc., a video platform that is popular among younger Chinese people,” the report mentioned.