Fairfax: What Jack Ma wants, Jack Ma may get

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Is Alibaba founder Jack Ma coming after Fairfax? Freelance journalist and self-confessed Sydney Swans tragic Michael Sainsbury thinks so.

The Asia editor of the Little Red Blog says Ma, who already has a beachhead in Australia, wants more.

And we're not just talking e-commerce.

The Alibaba chief is reported to be one of what seems an increasing number interested in acquiring Fairfax Media. So here are some questions you might be asking:

-why: when you've got the money and the opportunity, anything is possible; while other media owners might see potential influence in getting closer to Donald Trump, Jack Ma's business interests are not being held back by being a good friend of China. Sainsbury says there are days when the front page of recent acquisition the South China Morning Post looks like one from the China Daily;

-will he be allowed? Probably not - Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board exists to question the impact on the country of major acquisitions by overseas nationals. News Corp may belong to a Yank, Optus mostly to Singapore's Singtel, a big chunk of Mrs Rinehart's beef properties to Chinese investors, but there would be strong feelings about an asset like the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age - especially if the wannabe purchaser can't use his power to influence the next election (yet);

-so what? Ma has been recruiting journalists in Hong Kong outside the SCMP, and has the resources to build a news team and start an Australian newsmedia organization - even a newspaper; there's no shortage of disenchanted and out-of-work journos who would respond to an enticing offer;

-can we stop him? It's hard to imagine how Ma could be stopped from bringing his Alibaba business to Australia, and setting up a media operation to support it; the suggestion is that he'd like Fairfax Media's Domain site, and recent discussion about the possibility of floating it off as a separate business has reminded everyone not living under a stone, how much of Fairfax's asset base it comprises. Is effective minority control - (another) reverse takeover - out of the question?

Estimated to be worth almost US$30 billion, Ma has been building media interests in the Chinese "shop window" city of Hong Kong, not just through the acquisition of the SCMP, but through separate developments.

Late last year he added former Wall Street Journal Asia digital editor Adam Najberg to his HK team, a man with a reputation for getting things done in environments far less sophisticated than Australia.

Perhaps his next job could be to woo the natives in Melbourne.

Peter Coleman

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