Things just keep getting worse and worse for Hong Kong’s paper of record.
Now, if you try to log onto South China Morning Post’s Chinese-language news site or lifestyle site you are redirected to the paper’s English-language website and informed that SCMP’s Chinese-language services have been closed in order to better “integrate resources.” The message concludes, “We thank you for your past support.”
And just like that years of Chinese-language reporting by the SCMP has been wiped out. Current and former employees told Quartz that they were not told in advance about the decision to close the site. This is backed up by the fact that SCMP’s Chinese-language news site, nanzao.com, was still posting stories on Facebook as late as this afternoon.
Meanwhile, a SCMP spokesperson told Quartz that the closure would help the company to “align resources towards further growth.” HKFP cites a Now TV report claiming that at an internal meeting SCMP management asserted that their main focus was on English-language readers.
The closure is just the latest change for SCMP since the media company was purchased by Jack Ma last year for $266 million. The Alibaba founder came in boasting that he would use Hong Kong’s main English-language newspaper to help change perceptions about China abroad, ripping down the paper’s online paywall in the process.
Once envied as the world’s most profitable newspaper on a per-reader basis, SCMP saw its profit peak in 1997, and was delisted in 2013 when the free float of its shares fell below the required 25%. Between 2000 and 2012, SCMP weathered 10 changes of editors-in-chief, but none proved as disastrous as the 2012 appointment of Wang Xiangwei, a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference member, and a former employee of the China Daily.
While Wang was accused of overseeing years of self-censorship, Jack Ma doesn’t seem to be endearing himself to Hong Kong readers either. Despite reassurances from Ma to “trust” that his company “also wants media independence and fairness.” Ma’s close ties to Beijing leadership have led many to worry about the reliability of the paper’s reporting.
A particularly peculiar “interview,” published in July, with a young legal activist who had been detained by Chinese authorities for over a year hasn’t helped matters. SCMP was able to speak with the woman, who had reportedly been released, despite the fact that her own husband was unable to get in contact with her.
Still, despite its well-connected ownership, the paper’s online presence in mainland China remains non-existent since internet censors shut down its microblogging accounts on Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, as well as its WeChat page on March 8th of this year.
In the past, owner Jack Ma has had his own problems with the Chinese-language website’s reporting. In 2013, nanzao.com published an interview with Ma, quoting him as saying that Deng Xiaoping’s decision on June 4, 1989 was “the most correct decision.” Ma denied the quote and the reporter resigned.