Hong Kong's South China Morning Post in takeover talks

SCMP newspaper Image copyright AFP
Image caption The SCMP has been in circulation for 112 years and rumours of its takeover have been swirling since earlier this month

The publisher of Hong Kong's South China Morning Post (SCMP) has confirmed that it is in talks to sell the popular English-language newspaper.

In a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the SCMP Group said it has received a "preliminary approach" from a third party to purchase its media assets, including the newspaper.

The BBC understands that Chinese e-ecommerce giant Alibaba is the bidder.

But Alibaba has not confirmed that it is interested in buying the newspaper.

Sources said that the Chinese tech giant, led by Jack Ma, was discussing buying the century-old newspaper to expand its business into the media sector.

Last month Alibaba, the world's biggest e-commerce company, also offered to buy the Chinese video site Youku Tudou.

Analysis: Juliana Liu, Hong Kong correspondent

A source familiar with the potential deal has told me that he is aware of concerns that the broadsheet, under the internet giant, would be used to please the Chinese government.

He dismissed those fears, saying the newspaper would not be useful to the new owner if it lacked credibility. He said any future agreement would be 'just business'.

But many people in Hong Kong, a politically polarised city, are deeply worried.

They fear their flagship English-language newspaper will be sold to a mainland Chinese company that will have no choice but to accommodate Beijing if it wants to stay in business.

Early talks

Alibaba would be following in the footsteps of US-based rival Amazon's owner Jeff Bezos, who bought the Washington Post in 2013, although with his own money and not as part of the company.

In its statement, SCMP Group said talks of a possible purchase were at a very early stage.

"The terms of any potential transaction remain subject to discussion and to regulatory review" it said.

"There is no assurance that any such transaction will materialise or, if it materialises, will be consummated."

The SCMP is a highly regarded newspaper for the English-speaking population in the former British colony.

The group also holds licences to several international publications such as Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar magazines.

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