Champions of individual freedom can breathe easy. You only need to listen to Parliament on a bad day - any day - to be reassured that the right to be a complete and utter idiot is alive and well in our land.

The free world will be relieved to hear that a woman's right to give birth while appearing in a porn movie has been affirmed by a High Court ruling. We might also be the only nation in the world - though, I fear, probably not - in which a newborn baby's rights not to appear on a porn movie have been considered in high places (the baby may not appear in the movie, though I haven't yet seen any explanation of how you film a birth without revealing the presence of a baby).

And we have yet to hear anything about a baby's rights not to be known for the rest of its life as the "Porn Baby", as one sensitive newspaper called the poor little mite.

I can bring myself to defend, through gritted teeth, the rights of Nikki, the mum - if that's the right word - in question. But with freedom comes responsibility. And consequences. In our society you can do pretty much what you like as long as it's legal. Which, somewhat surprisingly when you come to think about it, giving birth in a porn movie is.


But that doesn't mean normal people have to like it. Health Minister Annette King has overthrown an agreement between porn producer Steve Crow and Waikato Hospital and is declaring that the birth cannot be filmed at any public hospital.

Crow has been bleating about his rights, but I'm with Mrs King. She's defending her department's right not to be associated with something that anyone with half a brain would find beyond the boundaries of reasonable behaviour.

Then there's the Kupka business, which has had many commentators grumbling about freedom of speech and academic freedom. Hans Joachim Kupka, a German immigrant with New Zealand citizenship, was a student at Waikato University (what is it about the Waikato?), working on a PhD on the use of the German language in New Zealand. His work would involve contact with German-speaking migrants, some of whom might well be Jewish.

He was also posting Holocaust-denying views on the net. It was the usual crap - the gas chambers at Auschwitz are fake, references to "Jewish babbling" and "Holocult, this utterly disproportionate and irrelevant theatre", familiar to anyone who has encountered the works of people like "historian" David Irving.

Jewish staff at the university and the Jewish community raised serious concerns, which they felt weren't addressed adequately. A fracas ensued and Kupka, who, it was revealed had been an official of the allegedly Neo-Nazi Republikaner Party in Bavaria, quit the university in 2000.

Was he, as some have suggested, drummed out of the university for having unpopular views? Or, like the porn producer, did he merely find that if you place yourself beyond the margins of rational and reasonable human discourse, people might not be that happy to work with you?

I'm sure if I went barking mad and started ranting on the internet in support of the Ku Klux Klan, my professional standing would suffer and jobs might not be so easy to find.

Private views are not necessarily relevant to academic endeavour, but academics and the institutions they serve stand or fall on their publications. Kupka chose to publish his views on the internet. That should have been enough for any sensible university, I would have thought, not to wish to align itself with thinking anyone with half a brain finds repulsive.


Bill Renwick, in his 160-page report on the Kupka affair, finds, unsurprisingly, that Kupka's views were of a "racist, anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying" character. He took the university to task over its handling of the case and recommended an apology to the Jewish community.

But the most disturbing thing about the report is a failure by an institution of higher learning to get to grips with what Holocaust denial is ("I do not find that these statements constitute Holocaust denial," wrote vice-chancellor Bryan Gould) or what it signifies.

To those of us who have heard about the Holocaust from family members who happened to be there at the time, it is defamation. The Kupkas and Irvings of the world ask me to believe that my father was lying in the interests of some global Jewish conspiracy, though they never say what actually happened to his entire family except for the two who managed to escape. Natural causes, perhaps.

But even on a purely academic level we are not just talking about a different interpretation of fact. We are talking about different planets. Holocaust denial is an attack on the shared history we rely on to make sense of the world.

As American writer Mark Greif writes: "Denial looks different from other forms of racial hatred. It doesn't resemble an opinion, as ordinary racism does, to be best countered with more free speech. It raids the store of facts. It mimics real historical revision, which changes the view of the past without harming the evidence.

"And it succeeds because it selectively misuses the most familiar mechanisms of proof, manipulating liberalism's natural scepticism and properly footnoting all its deceptions. It looks like sabotage."

No one interfered, or contemplated interfering, with Kupka's right to express his views. But Waikato University was awfully slow to see that those published views might have an affect on his professional standing - and, by its endorsement of him, the university's.

Annette King swiftly found a way to distance her department from one idiotic misuse of the notion of individual freedom. Waikato University should have done the same with another.