No censorship in South China Morning Post from Alibaba, says CEO

Cathy Yang, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 18 2019 12:27 AM | Updated as of Oct 18 2019 05:15 AM

MANILA—The editorial independence of Hong Kong's most prestigious news organization is unaffected by its purchase 3 years ago by Chinese tech giant Alibaba, the organization's CEO said in an exclusive interview with ANC's "The Boss."

As protests in Hong Kong enter a 19th week, South China Morning Post CEO Gary Liu said he and Alibaba's owners have not interfered in the way their journalists are covering the mass actions.

"Our owners believe in the editorial independence of the South China Morning Post newsroom, and so over the course of the three-plus years of ownership, they have not stepped in to tell the newsroom how to report. And in this situation they have not stepped in either," Liu said.

In an article published in 2016, the SCMP said Alibaba's Jack Ma had promised that the e-commerce giant's management would not take part in the Post’s newsroom operations, but would instead "represent readers’ interests and give feedback on how to improve readers’ experience."

Liu said he has never talked to Ma about how SCMP reporters are covering the protests and he himself rarely takes part in newsroom debates and discussions.

"I stand in the corner and I listen and I learn," Liu said about his participation in editorial debates.

The SCMP's digital readership has grown worldwide, with a third of that coming from the ASEAN, including the Philippines, and another third of that in North America, Liu said because people find it to be a fair gauge of the true situation in China.

Its readership is also growing in markets such as Japan, South Korea, Thailand and India.

Liu attributes this to the news organization's fairness in reporting that "not based on what just the West thinks" or "what China's propaganda says, but covers the in-between, covers the comprehensive truth."

He said that under his leadership the SCMP has also corrected impressions that its reporters are timid and practice self-censorship, which was noted in a New York Times article in 2018.

People weren't exactly free to speak their minds, and that timidity has persisted under Alibaba, according to more than a dozen Post journalists speaking to the NYT.

"We take self-censorship very very seriously," said Liu, adding that he wants to "make sure all of our journalists understand that their job is to report the truth that they observe."

As CEO of a major news organization, he said his job is to minimize "distractions" for their journalists, which could affect their "freedom to report what they see."

Distractions could be external influences and business issues, he said.

While Liu won't say when he's expecting to break even or make money as he monetizes online readership through ads, he said the growth in readership is enough to bring him close to a "scaled operation" - as the paper goes from regional to global.

On the Hong Kong protests, Liu said he was very proud of how the SCMP newsroom has "handled the intensity of this kind of reporting."

"This is a watershed moment for Hong Kong."