Zondervan happy to eat at Murdoch’s table

As reported by Religion News Stories, a leading religious news wire service, Zondervan – the major Christian publisher owned by News Corp – has no problem with its position as a member of the Murdoch empire. Their July 21 article, Blogosphere abuzz over Rupert Murdoch as `Bible mogul’, says Zondervan spokesperson Tara Powers told Christian Today that the Murdoch scandal “does not present an ethical dilemma for Zondervan.”

Powers says: “We are fortunate to have strong and positive relationships with our authors. They know who Zondervan is and how we operate and we have not heard of serious concerns from authors.”

But Shane Claiborne, whose books are third and fourth on Zondervan’s list of top sellers, told me he thinks Zondervan now has an opportunity to bear witness from within the “belly of the beast.”

“I would hope that a company whose mission is explicitly Christian, as Zondervan’s is, would take the opportunity to bear witness and to speak into the culture which is so terribly fallen,” Claiborne said in relation to the Murdoch scandal. Claiborne said he has communicated his concerns directly to Zondervan executives.

Christianity uncensored
Powers says Murdoch does not exercise control over the Bible publisher, and Zondervan will continue to “operate with autonomy.” Claiborne confirms he has had “full freedom” to write whatever he wants with Zondervan.

While I am sure Rupert Murdoch does not read Zondervan books before they go to press, the argument that ownership has no effect on editorial freedom – which Powers’ statement implies – is untenable. Would Zondervan print a book critiquing religious participation in the concentration of media holdings? Would they print a book criticizing Rupert Murdoch?

And how much autonomy does Zondervan have when crafting a statement in response to the Murdoch scandal? Are they really free to say anything other than what they said? Can they criticize their owner?

I would further question how much autonomy the Christian press has in reporting this story since many Christian press outlets receive significant advertising revenue from Zondervan. Publications risk crucial advertising dollars by openly criticizing advertisers.

That is one reason Geez magazine, for which I served as a editor and for which I now provide online content, accepts no advertising revenue from Zondervan or anyone else. It is ad-free. I am free to say here whatever I want without worry of financial repercussions.

Christian dollars fuel News Corp
The reported Zondervan comments make no mention of the fact that their work helps enrich what appears to be an unscrupulous empire, nor that a media mogul of dubious repute owns exclusive North American print rights to the New International Version of the Bible.

As I wrote in my previous article, I would love to see some readers, writers and retailers engage in some respectful, humble, Gandhian non-participation with respect to the big Bible business. But unlike that article, in which I express hesitation about any sort of Bible boycott, I am feeling less and less reluctance about such a course of action.

If a Christian company, and leading disseminater of Christian ideas, sees no ethical problem with occupying a seat at Rupert Murdoch’s media banquet, questions are in order – including questions about where to spend our money.

Zondervan has not responded to my July 15 request for comment on their connection to Murdoch.

For more on the Zondervan-Murdoch connection see:
CNN’s Belief Blog
USA Today’s Faith & Reason blog
The New York Observer

– Will Braun, former editor with Geez magazine, Winnipeg, Manitoba (wbraun [ at ] inbox [ dot ] com)

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