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China curbs local media coverage of Alibaba probe: source

Beijing

CHINA has ordered its domestic media to restrict their reporting on an antitrust probe into Alibaba Group Holding, as speculation over the future of one of China's largest corporations intensified, said people with direct knowledge of the matter.

A directive issued by the government's propaganda arm towards the end of last year ordered news outlets to strictly echo the official line on the investigation into the tech giant, and prohibited them from engaging in original reporting and extended analysis, or drawing their own conclusions without authorisation, said the sources, who asked not to be identified as the order has not been made public. The restrictions also apply to Jack Ma, the company's co-founder, they said.

Authorities in Beijing regularly issue propaganda directives and guidelines to domestic media organisations to further the government's policy objectives. The Financial Times (FT) earlier reported the directive on Alibaba, saying that it signalled how the issue has become a matter of national political sensitivity.

Billionaire Mr Ma's empire has become the most prominent target of China's campaign against the technology industry, which has so far torpedoed affiliate Ant Group's US$35 billion initial public offering, and led to an antitrust investigation at his e-commerce giant. Mr Ma, who has not been seen in public for months, has been advised by the government to stay in the country, a person familiar with the matter said. Several online blogs that speculated about his whereabouts have been censored, said FT.

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"It's because the government does not want to see two things: one is people questioning the overreaching intervention, the other is people lashing out at the private sector and discouraging China's economic engine," said Fang Kecheng, a communications professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

At one media company, the restrictions were applied to Chinese language outlets, but not its English language journalists, a source said. BLOOMBERG

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