Beijing Asks Alibaba to Shed Its Media Assets

China’s government has asked Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to dispose of its media assets, as officials grow more concerned about the technology giant’s sway over public opinion in the country, according to people familiar with the matter.

Discussions over the matter have been held since early this year, after Chinese regulators reviewed a list of media assets owned by the Hangzhou-based company, whose mainstay business is online retail. Officials were 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, founded by billionaire Jack Ma, has throughout the years assembled a formidable portfolio of media assets that span print, broadcast, digital, social media and advertising. Notable holdings include stakes in the Twitter -like Weibo platform and several popular Chinese digital and print news outlets, as well as the South China Morning Post, a leading English-language newspaper in Hong Kong. Several of these holdings are in U.S.-listed companies.

Such influence is seen as posing serious challenges to the Chinese Communist Party and its own powerful propaganda apparatus, the people said.

The party’s propaganda department didn’t reply to a faxed request seeking comment.

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