LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Britain’s Financial Times Group said it aimed to launch its first Chinese-language magazine ahead of the Summer Olympics in Beijing to target China’s increasingly affluent professionals.
The magazine would be the first in China to be published by a wholly foreign-owned company instead of as a joint venture with Chinese investment, sources briefed on the matter said.
If successful, the new monthly magazine would be a coup for the Financial Times and its London-based parent, Pearson Plc (PSON.L), which compete with News Corp NWSa.N and its The Wall Street Journal in China.
Called “Rui” — the Chinese word for intelligence — the magazine will have original content about wealth management and the lifestyle of China’s growing business ranks, as well as stories translated from FT publications such as FT Wealth, an English-language quarterly supplement relaunched this year.
“We plan to launch a Chinese language magazine under the FT brand aimed at China’s growing business elite,” FT Asia spokeswoman Azmar Sukandar said, confirming what the sources had told Reuters.
“We are currently finalizing details, including a launch date,” she said.
Rui will be printed outside mainland China, possibly in Hong Kong. The FT said it was in the process of obtaining approval from Chinese authorities to distribute the monthly in China, where the media industry is still tightly regulated.
Media industry sources with knowledge of the situation told Reuters that the FT was likely to get the green light as China is eager to show the world that it is committed to its “opening up” policy, even amid fierce criticism in the country over Western media organizations’ coverage of the unrest in Tibet.
Many Chinese have expressed frustration over what they perceive as biased reports on Tibet, which has sparked protests around the world ahead of the August Olympic Games.
Time Warner Inc’s TWX.N CNN cable news network apologized earlier in April after one of its commentators labeled Chinese as “goons” and China’s products “junk.” The Beijing government lodged a formal protest, and the incident inspired a song that spread online called “Don’t Be Too CNN.”
China is willing to allow foreign publishers like the FT to issue Chinese-language magazines that do not contain “politically sensitive” content, according to the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Beijing is also expected to permit distribution of Playboy PLA.N magazine in China for at least a month to meet the demand of overseas visitors during the Olympics, the sources said.
“For instance, it’s not possible for Time magazine to publish its Chinese version in China unless it wants to be censored, but I think it’s OK for the FT to publish a lifestyle and wealth-focused magazine in China,” one source said.
The source added that Beijing wanted to show the West that it is committed to the “open-up” policy initiated by former Chinese top leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s.
The FT logo would be printed on the cover of Rui to boost the publisher’s presence in China, the world’s fastest-growing major economy. A proposed English name for the magazine is “FT Wealth China,” but no decision has been made, the sources said.
Western magazines in China, such as Forbes and Elle, have formed joint ventures with Chinese companies in the past. But the FT has no plans to do so, and instead will run Rui as an “FT start-up,” Sukandar said.
It is not clear whether the new magazine would be widely available or restricted to metropolitan hot spots, such as Beijing and Shanghai, she said.
“Over the past decade, China has allowed scores of foreign titles to be distributed on the mainland,” Sukandar said. “Our project falls within this well-established policy.”
News Corp’s Dow Jones & Co, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, had content-sharing cooperation with some Chinese magazines such as the influential Beijing-based Caijing, the sources said.
London-based Zhang Lifen, chief editor of FTChinese.com — the Chinese-language online edition of the British business daily The Financial Times — will oversee Rui, although its day-to-day editorial operation team will be based in Beijing.
Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Pearson planned to start a new daily business newspaper in India with local partner Network 18 Media & Investments Ltd, which controls that nation’s largest business news TV channel, CNBC-TV18.
Pearson ended its 15-year relationship with India’s Business Standard by selling Pearson’s 13.85 percent stake in the business daily to Infina Finance Private Ltd, an associate of Kotak Mahindra Group, Sukandar said.
The FT’s content-sharing agreement with the Business Standard will terminate at the end of the year.
Additional reporting by Robert MacMillan