But Alibaba’s spokesman Rico Ngai spoke to Reuters on Thursday and denied the rumor, which was reported by the Australian Financial Review. When asked if talks had been held at any point over the last year, Ngai declined to comment.
A source originally told the Financial Review that discussions started in July. An initial meeting was reportedly arranged between Ming Pao and Alibaba to discuss a potential acquisition, in light of the newspaper’s deteriorating financial situation.
Coincidentally, shares in Ming Pao's parent company Media China International spiked on Thursday, up 19.3 per cent to HK$1.30.
Last week, Alibaba bought Hong Kong's South China Morning Post and other media assets of SCMP Group for U.S. $266 million, prompting many analysts to draw comparisons to Amazon's Jeff Bezos, who also recently dabbled in publishing.
Many compared the acquisition to Bezos' purchase of TheWashington Post in 2013.
The South China Morning Post’s print circulation is around 100,000 and its revenue fell 8% to HK$549.3 million (US$98 million).
In a letter to Post readers, Alibaba’s chairman Joseph Tsai said the company would maintain the newspaper’s editorial independence.
“Some have suggested that ownership by Alibaba will compromise the SCMP's editorial independence. This criticism reflects a bias of its own, as if to say newspaper owners must espouse certain views, while those that hold opposing views are 'unfit,'" he said.
Alibaba has already moved to grow the Post’s digital presence. The company announced it will remove the paywall on its website to increase international readership and influence.
Alibaba's founder Jack Ma on Wednesday defended the group's purchase of the South China Morning Post."Trust us," he told a Wall Street Journal reporter. "Why do people have to think that if we have it, it will lose its independence? Why not with others? We also read the newspapers. We also want media independence and fairness. What basis is there that with us, there will be no more independence?"