BEIJING -- The Chinese government has requested that Alibaba Group Holding dispose of its media assets, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
The e-commerce giant owns the South China Morning Post, a 117-year-old English-language newspaper based in Hong Kong.
If carried out, the move would not only lead to a breakup of the Alibaba empire, but also likely impact Hong Kong's press freedoms, especially if the next buyer is a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
Beijing has sought ways to reduce Alibaba's influence on society. What started out as an e-commerce company now touches many aspects of Chinese people's lives, including their wallets via Ant Group.
Bloomberg later reported that the SCMP is among the properties the government wants sold, citing a person familiar with the matter.
Besides acquiring the SCMP in 2016, Alibaba has aggressively invested in media businesses including YouTube-like streaming platform Youku Tudou, entertainment company Huayi Brothers and video-sharing site Bilibili.
Alibaba has capital tie-ups with multiple state-owned media companies, holding a stake in a unit of China Business Network, which is part of Shanghai Media Group. It has an interest in a unit of leading broadcaster Hunan Television.
Founder Jack Ma has faced increasing pressure from the Beijing government since his October 2020 speech criticizing Chinese regulators for stifling innovation.
Ant Group's initial public offering, slated for November, was postponed, with Alibaba coming under antitrust review the following month. Ant CEO Simon Hu resigned Friday.
The ruling Communist Party regards the media as a mouthpiece of the government. The leadership under Chinese President Xi Jinping, which has cracked down on traditional media and the internet, may have frowned upon Alibaba's use of the media.
"The authorities have toughened their stance toward the Alibaba group as a whole, so the sale of media assets is likely a part of that," a source with ties to a regional government said. "This may be the start of a push to dismantle the group, including the media segment."