Forbes, which is currently majority-owned by a shadowy Hong Kong company, is currently being considered for purchase by a group of U.S. companies, including some that rightly want to see Forbes “under U.S. ownership.” The Hong Kong company, called Integrated Whale Media, has owned the majority of Forbes since 2014, raising questions about foreign influence over U.S. media and the effect that might have on American democracy.
The chief executive officer of Borderless Services Inc., a blockchain holding group, gave an interview to Cointelegraph, published on June 1, in which he revealed a political interest in purchasing Forbes. “We are excited to participate either as owners, partners, or [a] combined force with the other bidders,” wrote Patrick McConlogue. “Collectively we all want Forbes back under US ownership and are excited about the next 100 years of Forbes.”
McConlogue is a hero. But U.S. companies should not have to compete against foreign companies to keep American media, American. We could make laws or establish policy to help American investors own American media by disallowing foreign companies, and foreign citizens, to buy American media.
A special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) and a consortium that Michael Moe, the technology investor, leads, are also reportedly interested in purchasing Forbes. Moe is the founder and CEO of GSV Ventures. The SPAC would make Forbes a publicly-traded company (foreigners could be shareholders), while the other buyers would keep it private.
Borderless Services bid $700 million for Forbes, with debt financing from Ares Management Corp, according to an April report from Reuters. Borderless plans to create new value by installing a new management team and a Forbes digital wallet that would provide cryptocurrency products to users for their management of digital currencies.
Integrated Whale Media currently owns 95 percent of Forbes, with only 5 percent still owned by the Forbes family. B.C. Forbes founded the company in 1917. Its ownership by a Hong Kong company, with Hong Kong increasingly under Chinese Communist Party influence, is sadly ironic given Forbes’ traditional support for capitalism, entrepreneurship, and the magazine’s famous billionaire’s list. Forbes claims to reach greater than 140 million people in 40 global editions, which is a lot of influence over American voters.
According to my sources, the company in approximately 2017 ended the contracts of at least three writers who were critical of China, including Gordon Chang and (full disclosure) myself. Chang’s case is particularly disturbing as the company removed his prior articles from its website, an unusual move by a media company.
That same year, the Chinese conglomerate HNA Group made an unsuccessful bid for majority ownership of Forbes. That HNA sought to purchase an influential American media company should set off alarm bells in Washington, D.C. At the very least, President Biden should direct the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to review and reject such attempts at foreign control of our media.
The influence that the U.S. media has over voters, and thus over American democracy, is too great to leave entirely to the market, which is increasingly China-centric. China’s economy exceeded the American economy (by purchasing power parity) in 2016. If not defended against through new legislation, that increasing economic power translates into political power in Washington.
In order to maintain the integrity of American information flows, and thus the integrity of American democracy, there should be laws against foreign ownership of U.S. media. While some private family owners of U.S. media have long maintained the integrity of their brands, the case of Forbes selling to a foreign company close to communist China is a case in point for the necessity of a law mandating American ownership of all of America’s most influential media companies. Owners of American media should by law be solely U.S. citizens, not those with dual citizenship.
When American democracy is at stake, we must take stronger measures to ensure the integrity of trusted information flows to our voters. Keep American media American.
Anders Corr has a bachelor’s/master’s in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. He authored “The Concentration of Power” (forthcoming in 2021) and “No Trespassing,” and edited “Great Powers, Grand Strategies.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.