The New York Times Company says it’s not for sale, but a high-profile Chinese businessman and philanthropist eager to buy what he views as the world’s most influential newspaper plans to fly to New York City this week to push ahead with his bid.
Chen Guangbiao on Wednesday told the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-affiliated paper, that he has a meeting scheduled Friday with a city firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions, followed by dinner on Sunday with “a middle-level leader” from the Times.
He insisted the proposal was serious, saying he had been eyeing the NYT for two years.
The New York Times Co. did not respond to queries Wednesday, but a report in the Times quoted a spokeswoman as saying, “We have no information about any such meeting.”
Amid speculation following the sale of the family-owned Washington Post, NYT publisher and NYT Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger in a statement last August made it clear that the Ochs-Sulzberger family had no plans to do the same.
“Will our family seek to sell The Times? The answer to that is no. The Times is not for sale, and the trustees of the Ochs-Sulzberger Trust and the rest of the family are united in our commitment to work together with the company’s board, senior management and employees to lead The New York Times forward into our global and digital future,” the statement said.
Chen told the Global Times there was nothing that could not be bought for the right price, expressing optimism that his “sincere acts” could help to change the publisher’s mind.
The businessman, who made his fortune from recycling and is known in China for eccentric publicity stunts, said his ownership of the paper could help to promote his ideals of “environmental protection, philanthropy and peace on earth,” and “present an authentic China.”
Patriotic Chinese are highly sensitive about the image of their country in international media, and the government tirelessly promotes the line that the Asian giant’s rise is peaceful, dismissing as unfounded any suggestion that it poses a threat to the region or the world.
China’s notion of press freedom also contrasts sharply to the West’s. Beijing recently announced that some 250,000 Chinese journalists will for the first time have to take a test on Marxist ideology before their press cards will be renewed for 2014.
Further, the Xinhua state news agency reported two weeks ago that the Communist Party’s propaganda department will begin supervising teaching at the country’s top journalism schools, “to strengthen education of the Marxist news outlook.”
Chen said if he failed in his bid to buy the NYT Co. outright, he would settle for buying a stake. If unsuccessful he would also consider other leading media outlets, he added, citing the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and CNN.
Chen’s past publicity stunts include selling “canned fresh air” in heavily-polluted Beijing and handing out cash to victims of an earthquake in 2008.
In mid-2012 a dispute with Japan over contested East China Sea islands triggered anti-Japanese protests in several Chinese cities, and Japanese-made cars were targeted by angry demonstrators. Chen then bought dozens of Chinese-made cars and in a high-profile event gave them to the owners of the destroyed Japanese models.
Around the same time, Chen turned to the NYT to make a paid political statement about the dispute with Japan over the islands (which persists, and worsened in recent months when China declared an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea in November.)
He took out a half-page advertisement in the main section of the paper on Aug. 31 that year, accusing Japan of violating China’s rights to the islands, which China calls Diaoyu and Japan calls Senkaku.
“How would Americans feel, and what would America do, if Japan announced that Hawaii was its territory?” it asked.
Chen saw the ad as a major success, and began pondering the value of owning the paper.
“After that, I realized that the Times’ influence all over the world is incredibly vast,” Reuters this week quoted him as saying. “Every government and embassy, all around the world, pays attention to the New York Times.”