Eccentric Chinese tycoon wants to buy and 'reform' New York Times
BEIJING - Agence France-Presse
File picture shows Chinese multimillionaire Chen Guangbiao giving money away to street cleaners during an event he organised, in Nanjing, Feb. 21, 2013. REUTERS photoA Chinese tycoon said Jan. 6 he is serious about buying the New York Times and wants to work on "rebuilding its credibility and influence" by reforming its award-winning coverage of China.
Chen Guangbiao, listed as one of China's 400 richest people and a man known as much for his publicity stunts as his charitable giving, penned an op-ed in the state-run Global Times newspaper headlined: "I intend to buy The New York Times, please don't take it as a joke". "The tradition and style of The New York Times make it very difficult to have objective coverage of China," Chen wrote.
"If we could purchase it, its tone might turn around. Therefore I have been involved in discussing acquisition-related matters with like-minded investors." The New York Times has published several award-winning reports on China, including a 2012 investigation into the family wealth of then-premier Wen Jiabao that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
The paper's website has been blocked ever since in China, the world's second-biggest economy, and several of its reporters have had difficulty obtaining visas.
Chinese state media and officials often interpret overseas criticism of the ruling Communist Party as an attack on the country itself.
The eccentric tycoon added that if he succeeds he "will conduct some necessary reforms, the ultimate goal of which is to make the paper's reports more authentic and objective, thus rebuilding its credibility and influence". On Dec. 30 Chen said at an event in the southern Chinese boom town of Shenzhen that he planned to travel to the U.S. "to go discuss the acquisition" of the paper, a remark that many dismissed as the wealthy entrepreneur's latest play for attention.
Four days later, Chen was spotted by a Chinese Business News reporter at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. A New York Times spokeswoman told a reporter for the newspaper last week that the company had "no information" about any negotiations with Chen.
'Nothing cannot be bought'
Chen built his fortune, estimated at five billion yuan ($825 million) by Chinese wealth publisher the Hurun Report, on the recycling company Huangpu Renewable Resources Utilisation Group. But he has been derided by critics as a publicity hound who will go to great lengths for attention. In the past, he has sold "canned fresh air" to residents of smog-ridden Beijing and also recently posed in front of a wall made out of thousands of "bricks" made of banknotes. In his op-ed, Chen wrote that he has "persuaded a Hong Kong entrepreneur to contribute $600 million to this cause" of buying the paper, whose parent company is listed on Wall Street and has a market capitalisation of more than $2 billion.
"I have said as long as the price is reasonable, there is nothing that cannot be bought," he wrote.
He added that he first had the idea of purchasing the newspaper when he placed an advertisement in it in December 2012 asserting Chinese sovereignty over a disputed island group called the Diaoyus by China and the Senkakus by Japan.
"I find Americans know little about a civilised and open China that has been enjoying unprecedented development," Chen wrote.