Its official: NatWest now censors academic work

I am, i guess, still in something of a state of shock. But then, its not everyday that one gets turned down by a bank – nor, in the process, made to feel like some sort of petty criminal.

But there it is. Yesterday, i passed all the credit checks with flying colours and NatWest appeared more than happy to open a new account to handle publishing the provisionally titled Taming the Beast, a fairly serious journalistic/academic look at the mechanisms – legal, regulatory and technological – that have been put in place over the last decade or so to control online porn.

Today, they phoned back. They’d changed their mind, refused the business because…well, because subject matter.

What? Could it all be a simple misunderstanding?

I doubt it. During the course of my meeting with a very helpful financial adviser, i explained in some detail what i was about. How i am a journalist who writes for all manner of quite respectable national press – from the Daily Mail to Index on Censorship, by way of the Guardian and the Indie.

I explained that, by virtue of my previous work, which i always describe as focused on the intersection of the law/policing, IT and sexuality, i am something of an expert in this area. How this is intended to be a stake in the ground: a serious updating of the literature in this field, etc., etc.

I explained further that, because i was going the self-publishing route, i wanted to have a business account that didn’t touch my own personal account…because the less one puts one’s personal details out into the wider online world, the better.

All good, sensible stuff. Not a smidgeon of doubt about the content of this work: i very carefully explained that it was not a pornographic work. Not even an erotic one, much to the chagrin of at least one of my current reviewers. It would be worthy. Serious.

We chatted amicably: the (youthful) financial adviser made all the right noises, ran my application through her system.

No problems.

NatWest: the Victorian bank

Then, this morning, out of the blue, the call. She had since run it past her boss…her manager.

Who was less impressed. “NatWest don’t do this sort of thing”, she explained.

“Er, what sort of thing? Publishing? Academic work?”

“No: the subject matter”.

I was incredulous. “You mean that NatWest will not sanction someone writing ABOUT a particular topic? Are there any other topics you’d rather people not write about in case, you know, in case it frightens the admin staff? Perhaps we had better not write about rape, or vioilence against women or…”.

Who knows.

I am left with two observations – and a call in to NatWest’s press office to try and get some sort of statement of policy from them.

Banks like to make money out of porn

The first is that it is less than six months since banks and other financial institutions refused an ask from ATVOD – the regulatory body that looks after online video streaming – to block payments to overseas websites hosting material that was potentially obscene in the UK.

Good and obvious reasons for not doing that, including the fact they’d probably be sued by some site operators. But still, it suggests that the big banks, including NatWest and others are more than happy to take money from the porn trade when it suits them.

Banks don’t like to hear non-government scripts

And second – the ultimate irony – one focus of my book is on how a panic about online content has effectively apread censorship upstream, making it harder to publish or even write about legitimate topics. Harder, even, to carry out decent research into the nature of porn, with the result that instead, we must make do with half-baked and inaccurate statistics from highly partisan organisations with a stake in exaggerating the problem.

It never, ever, occurred to me that i, too, might fall foul of this process.

Worst of all, of course, is how NatWest is largely state owned. State ownership and state censorship. Wow!

And this started out as such an ordinary day.



About janefae

On my way from here to there
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17 Responses to Its official: NatWest now censors academic work

  1. genderagenda says:

    Your problem is right there, Jane: “respectable national press – from the Daily Mail…” lol. Seriously, though as a publicly owned bank what recourse does one have to exposing their policies when it is more than just financial creditworthiness? I run a regional LGBT History Month website which is blocked on o2 and EE phone networks. A feminist site is also blocked. People confuse research with activity, gender with sex, education with exposure…I despair.

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  3. I know academics who get censored by their own institutions, for various reasons and in various subject areas. And anyway the term ‘academic’ doesn’t give you rights over and above ordinary citizens, many of whom get turned down for loans, mortgages and bank accounts all the time!

    • janefae says:

      yep…pretty much all of these are wrong. Nor do i particularly think i should have rights over and above anyone else. The point…the somewhat ironic point…is that a book whose focus is, in part, on the broader chilling effect of online censorship in the real world should, itself, fall foul of real world censorship.

      In other news: i am asking NatWest to explain their guidelines more broadly on what constitutes an unsuitable (topic for) business; and i am working on a story that will open up how is planning to censor political comment.

      One thing at a time. And just because i don’t deal with every issue on every occasion….doesn’t mean i don’t get round a lot of them at one time or other. Whereas sticking them ALL in one great big post would be a tad messy….

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