Frequently asked questions Ngā Pātai e Kaha Whiua Nei

FAQs

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) is an independent Crown entity that oversees the broadcasting standards regime on behalf of New Zealanders. We determine complaints, oversee and develop broadcasting standards, and engage with broadcasters and the public to help people understand and apply the broadcasting standards system, our decisions and our research.

For more information see What we do.

To be able to go through the BSA process, complaints have to be ‘formal complaints’.
If you just want to let the broadcaster know your concerns, or it is not an issue that can come to the BSA, it will be considered an ‘informal complaint’.
Formal complaints have to go to the broadcaster first (unless they are privacy complaints or election programme complaints which can be sent straight to the BSA). Contact details for major broadcasters can be found here.

See the complaints process. Further information about the complaints process is available from page 55 of the Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook.

Working days are ordinary weekdays (Mon-Fri) excluding public holidays and any days within the period from and including 25 December to 15 January.

When the BSA considers making an order, we ask the parties to the complaint for their views on what orders, if any, should be made.

The actions and attitude of the broadcaster will affect what orders are made.  For example, did the broadcaster:

  • uphold the complaint in the first instance and take action to respond to the breach and reduce any harm it may have caused
  • refute the breach and aggravate the initial harm caused?

Both parties’ submissions will be considered as well as other factors including:

  • the seriousness of the breach, and the number of upheld aspects of the complaint
  • the degree of harm caused to any individual, or to the audience generally
  • the objectives of the upheld standard(s)
  • the attitude and actions of the broadcaster in relation to the complaint (eg whether the broadcaster upheld the complaint and/or took mitigating steps; or whether the broadcaster disputed the standards breach and/or aggravated any harm caused)
  • past decisions and/or orders in similar cases.

Cost awards are usually to contribute to expenses (such as legal fees) incurred from the complaints process. See our guidance on page 66 of the Codebook or here for more information.

If the complainant or broadcaster does not agree with the BSA’s decision they have the right to appeal against the decision to the High Court. 

The appeal must be lodged in the High Court within one month from the date the parties were notified of the decision. 

For further information and advice about filing an appeal, you can contact:

  • A lawyer
  • Your local Citizens Advice Bureau or Community Law Centre
  • The Registrar at the High Court nearest to you.

The BSA’s role is to address complaints about the content of ‘election programmes’ broadcast on TV or radio, and to determine whether they breach the Election Programmes Code (section 8(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989). These complaints are made directly to the BSA. The BSA will endeavour to deal with election programme complaints as quickly as possible, after giving the parties involved an opportunity to comment.

Only general elections or by-elections for members of the House of Representatives are covered. Local body elections are not covered by this Code.

The BSA also considers complaints about the content of other programmes which may relate to the election (eg, broadcast news and current affairs coverage, satire and comment), under the Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV Codes. These complaints must first be made to the broadcaster, and then can be referred to the BSA if the complainant is dissatisfied with the response.

The BSA does not consider complaints about compliance with requirements such as promoter statements, written authorisation, allocation of funding, timing of broadcasting, or expense limits. These are dealt with by the Electoral Commission.

Section 69(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 defines an election programme as a programme that is broadcast on TV or radio during an ‘election period’ and:

  • encourages or persuades, or appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote, or not to vote, for a
    political party or the election of a constituency candidate; or
  • advocates support for, or opposes, a constituency candidate or political party; or
  • notifies meetings held or to be held in connection with an election.

Usually, election programmes will appear as short promotional / campaign clips broadcast on TV or on radio, for political parties or constituency candidates.

The Court of Appeal has held that election programmes are only those that are broadcast for political parties or candidates – and not programmes initiated by broadcasters or other third parties.

This means that other programmes about election matters that are broadcast on TV and radio, including news, comment or current affairs in relation to an election, are not ‘election programmes’ and are not subject to the Election Programmes Code. For example, if a comedy programme aired on television in the lead-up to the election included a skit featuring or parodying a particular party and candidate, it would not be considered an election programme. If a political documentary aired on television shortly before the election, which commented on a party’s track record on a contestable policy issue, this also would not be considered an election programme.

These programmes must however comply with the relevant broadcasting standards for Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV.

If the item is a third party-initiated ‘election advertisement’, it may be subject to the requirements under the Electoral Act (for which the Electoral Commission has responsibility), and any complaints about the content of such an advertisement may be made to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Complaints about the content of TV or radio programmes that relate to the election, that are not election programmes or election advertisements, can be considered by the broadcaster under the relevant broadcasting code of practice (Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV), and then referred to the BSA if the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome.

It depends on what your complaint is about:

  • The content of an election programme broadcast on TV or radio, during the general election period - The BSA
  • The content of an election advertisement published in any other media, including print, online, pamphlets, billboards - the Advertising Standards Authority
  • The content of a programme discussing election matters, broadcast on TV or radio (or on-demand, provided it was also broadcast on TV or radio) - the broadcaster (within 20 working days)
  • A discussion of election matters in the editorial content (as distinct from advertising) in NZ Media Council members’ publications - the NZ Media Council
  • The requirements relating to election programmes (under the Broadcasting Act), or election advertisements (under the Electoral Act). The Electoral Commission

If we receive a complaint that ought to be considered by the Electoral Commission, the Media Council or the Advertising Standards Authority, we will forward your complaint to the correct agency, and advise you where it has been sent.

If you are complaining to the broadcaster in the first instance, you need to make your complaint within 20 working days of the broadcast.

If you are referring your complaint to the BSA, you must refer your complaint to the BSA within 20 working days of receiving the broadcaster’s decision, or if the broadcaster did not respond, within 60 working days of the original broadcast.

For complaints regarding programmes that have not yet aired, see Can I complain about a programme that hasn’t aired yet?

You can still provide feedback to the broadcaster, but the broadcaster is not required to consider your complaint under the formal complaints process.

The BSA cannot accept a complaint received outside of the time periods which are provided for under the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Under section 8(1D) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the broadcaster is entitled to extend its response timeframe from 20 working days to 40 working days, so long as it lets you know within the initial 20 working days and provides a reason for extending the time.

If you still have not heard from the broadcaster within 40 working days of when it received your complaint, you may refer the matter to the BSA, provided you do so within 60 working days of the broadcast.

If you are dissatisfied with the response you receive from the broadcaster or the action taken by the broadcaster, you may refer your complaint to us for review and investigation. The BSA is unable to take any action in relation to your complaint until this time.

Complaints referred to the BSA will generally be decided within 3 months.  However, timeframes vary depending upon complexity, input required from the parties and whether the BSA considers it across 2 or more meetings.  BSA staff will keep you informed of the progress of your complaint once it is submitted.

Complaints and enquiries about the terms and conditions applying to competitions are not generally something that can be dealt with under broadcasting standards, and are best directed to the relevant broadcaster

Complaints about election programmes come directly to the BSA under the Election Programmes Code. An election programme is a programme by or for a political party or candidate aired in the election period. 

News, factual programming or satire about an election are covered under the radio, free-to-air television or pay television codes.

When it receives a complaint about an election programme, the BSA will notify the relevant broadcaster and the relevant political party or candidate that a complaint has been received, and give them both an opportunity to comment. It will also ask the broadcaster for a copy of the programme. The BSA will endeavour to deal with any election programme complaint as quickly as possible, so the parties will be expected to respond on a short timescale. Once it has considered all parties’ submissions, the BSA will issue its written decision to the parties, and will advise when the decision will be publicly released on its website.

Broadcasting standards do not specifically address issues of copyright. For more information about copyright law, we suggest you visit WeCreate, or the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The BSA is unable to provide specific advice about whether certain content might breach broadcasting standards, as this might risk pre-determining the Authority’s views if a complaint about this content were to come before it.

All of the BSA’s decisions are available on our website here and are a useful resource. The decisions contain guidance from the Authority about the standards and it may be that the Authority has considered a similar issue before.

We are also able to provide general guidance about broadcasting standards and the factors the Authority might consider when looking at broadcasting standards complaints. If you have a question, please feel free to contact us.  

Complaints which are only about the privacy standard can come directly to the BSA. This is because privacy is recognised in broadcasting standards as being a special and important right. You can choose to make a privacy complaint directly to the broadcaster if you wish. If you complain about privacy and other standards, your complaint must go to the broadcaster first.

The complaints process is free of charge.

Under the Broadcasting Act 1989, the BSA does not generally have any power to cancel programmes or to take them off air. In certain circumstances, if the BSA upholds a complaint, the BSA can order the withdrawal of further programmes forming part of a series or order a broadcaster to refrain from broadcasting for limited periods (up to 24 hours for each programme in respect of which a complaint has been upheld). This power is exercised rarely.

The BSA cannot generally stop a programme from airing. If you are concerned about whether scheduled content should be aired, please contact the broadcaster directly.

Read about what we do and the orders we can make.

The BSA does not approve programmes before they are aired or make decisions about what programmes can be aired. Programme selection, editorial and scheduling decisions are the responsibility of individual broadcasters.  If you are concerned about whether scheduled content should be aired, please contact the broadcaster directly.

If you would like to make a complaint about a broadcast once it has aired, you can find more information here

Broadcaster contact details

The BSA can only respond to formal complaints about broadcast content once it has been aired. We are unable to take any action prior to a programme being broadcast (unless it falls within the BSA’s limited power to stop further programmes within a series in certain circumstances).

If you have concerns about a programme before it has been aired, these are best directed to the relevant broadcaster.  

The Broadcasting Standards Codes describe the classifications (ratings) that broadcasters must use for programmes. Broadcasters undertake the appraisal and classification of programmes for broadcast in-house. The BSA does not decide what ratings or classifications apply to programmes.

If you have any questions about the classifications that apply to a programme, these are best directed to the relevant broadcaster.

If you think that a classification was not adequate for the broadcast content, you can make a formal complaint to the broadcaster in the first instance.

The BSA does not review or provide examples of warnings or audience advisories, as the wording required will be context-specific. The broadcaster is required under the broadcasting standards to determine what language is used in an audience advisory.

If you think that a warning was not adequate for the broadcast content, you can make a formal complaint to the broadcaster in the first instance.

The BSA does not make programme scheduling decisions. This is the responsibility of individual broadcasters. You can provide feedback about the scheduling of a programme (the time it is shown) to the broadcaster.

If you would like to make a complaint under broadcasting standards about a programme that you think should not have been aired at that time of the day or evening, you can make a formal complaint to the broadcaster in the first instance.

For more information, see the complaints process.

For guidance on which standards apply see choosing a standard.

The BSA does not have any power to monitor broadcasters, or to take action against a broadcaster outside of the formal complaints process. The BSA’s jurisdiction is triggered only when a formal complaint is made to the broadcaster, the broadcaster has responded to the complaint and the complainant has referred the complaint to us within the required timeframes. There are two exceptions, privacy and election programme complaints, which may be made directly to the BSA.

You can complain about any programme broadcast in New Zealand on television or radio. This covers:

  • Free-to-air TV programmes
  • Pay TV programmes
  • Radio programmes
  • Programmes viewed or listened to on demand (ONLY if you can supply details of original TV or radio broadcast and lodge your complaint within 20 working days of that broadcast)
  • Election advertisements on television or radio (during election periods)

The Advertising Standards Authority deals with most advertisements on television, radio, the internet, print and billboards for products, services or organisations.  See further ‘who do I complain to about an ad I have seen?’

The BSA can consider complaints about promotional material or ‘promos’ for upcoming programmes, but the complaint must be sent to the broadcaster in the first instance.

The BSA can consider complaints about election programmes (which might appear as short promotional/campaign clips for political parties or candidates, broadcast on TV or radio).

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) deals with complaints about an advertisement for a product, service or organisation.

You can contact the ASA by email at asa@asa.co.nz or phone 0800 234 357.

The BSA only has jurisdiction to consider formal complaints about programmes. Formal complaints must:

  • be in writing
  • relate to a programme that has been broadcast (and identify the date, time and channel)
  • identify the broadcasting standard(s) which you consider have been breached 
  • be made within the required timeframe (usually 20 working days since broadcast).

The sound volume of advertisements is not something that comes within the BSA’s jurisdiction, or something that can be dealt with as a matter of broadcasting standards. We suggest you direct your concerns to the broadcaster.

In 2012, some of the major broadcasters in New Zealand signed a sound compression agreement, relating to the volume of advertisements, which came into effect on 1 January 2013. Further information is available on broadcaster websites.

The BSA may order costs against a complainant only if it finds the complaint is trivial, frivolous or vexatious or one that ought not to have been made; or considers that it is appropriate to do so by reason of the failure of the complainant to prosecute any proceeding or failure to give notice of the abandonment of any proceeding (see s16 of the Broadcasting Act).

The BSA's written decision will include your name and the decision will be published on the BSA website.
The board only considers requests for name suppression when dealing with privacy complaints, or in other exceptional circumstances. Name suppression is rare.
If you believe there are special reasons why you should receive name suppression, please advise the BSA in writing – you can do this at any time before the decision is released.
If name suppression isn’t granted, we will let you know and you may be given an opportunity to withdraw your complaint.

Election programmes may only be broadcast during the ‘election period’. It is an offence to broadcast an election programme for a party or candidate outside of this period. Contact the Electoral Commission for more information about this.

For more information about advertising, you can contact the Commercial Approvals Bureau or the Advertising Standards Authority.

If the BSA upholds a complaint and decides that a broadcaster has breached standards, there are different orders it may make. For more information, see Outcomes & Remedies. Further information about the complaints process is available from page 55 of the Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook.

The written decision will be sent to you and to the broadcaster first. You will be asked to keep the decision confidential for a short time until it is publicly released.
The decision is published on the BSA website, and reported in the monthly BSA newsletter. Sometimes the BSA issues a media statement about a decision of interest. The BSA never releases the contact details of complainants to the media.

This is the process required under the Broadcasting Act 1989.  It gives the broadcaster an opportunity to answer your complaint first and to take action, if appropriate. You might be satisfied with their answer and decide not to take the complaint further.

You can complain about the following issues:

  • good taste and decency
  • programme information
  • children’s interests
  • violence
  • law and order
  • discrimination and denigration
  • alcohol
  • balance
  • accuracy
  • privacy
  • fairness


These issues are explained in detail in the Codes of Broadcasting Practice. The standards and guidelines contained in each code are slightly different according to where the programme was broadcast (radio, free-to-air television, pay television).  There is a separate code for election programmes.

Broadcasting standards complaints are about the content or classification of a programme or the time that it was shown. The BSA cannot consider complaints that do not fit within broadcasting standards. Complaints about other issues relating to a programme can be made directly to the broadcaster.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage is responsible for the administration of parts of the Broadcasting Act 1989, including responsibility for monitoring compliance with section 81 of the Act that prohibits television and radio advertising at certain times and on certain days of the year.

Under section 81 of the Broadcasting Act, advertising must not be broadcast on radio on Christmas Day, Good Friday or Easter Sunday; or on television between 6am-noon on Sunday or Anzac Day or at any time on Christmas Day, Good Friday or Easter Sunday. There are some exceptions.

Any complaints about advertising at these times or questions about the exceptions should be directed to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, which oversees this section of the Broadcasting Act. The Ministry can be contacted by email at info@mch.govt.nz or by phone on 04 499 4229.

A publicity notice is a promo by a broadcaster that publicises the procedure for making complaints. Broadcasters are required to broadcast publicity notices. This ensures the audience knows they can make complaints about a programme if they think it has breached broadcasting standards. This is a legislative requirement from section 6(1)(ba) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For more information, see Publicity Notices.

Subject to two exceptions, the BSA does not oversee content for on-demand services like Netflix and Lightbox. Some on-demand providers such as Netflix and Lightbox, are currently signatories to the NZ Media Council VOD Code which relates to classification of content on platforms that have signed up to that code.

Pursuant to an MOU, the BSA does oversee content standards and complaints for NEON. 

The BSA may also consider complaints about broadcast content that is subsequently made available online by the broadcaster, provided the complainant can point to the broadcast programme and complains within 20 working days of the broadcast. The BSA can also consider complaints about content that is live streamed by a broadcaster. 

Broadcasters are required by the Broadcasting Act 1989 (s30A) to send an annual return to the BSA certifying their total revenue derived from broadcasting in New Zealand. If this revenue is greater than $500,000, they must pay a broadcasting levy to the BSA.

For more information, see Broadcasting Levy

The BSA does not currently oversee content made available on YouTube which is watched on the demand of the user.  This is because under the Broadcasting Act content that is transmitted on the demand of a particular person is excluded from the definition of broadcasting.  However, content that is livestreamed on the internet by a broadcaster may be within the BSA’s jurisdiction.

If you would like to complain about something on YouTube, you may wish to report the issue to YouTube if you believe the content violates YouTube’s Community Guidelines. More information about reporting is available on YouTube’s website here.

As part of the BSA’s role to oversee and develop the broadcasting standards system, we also commission and publish research.

Our research helps us understand community attitudes and expectations around broadcasting. It informs the application and development of broadcasting standards by making sure that the decisions we make reflect our community’s diverse, contemporary attitudes and opinions.

Our research also assists broadcasters to understand what the community thinks and how the standards apply.

The New Zealand Media Council (formerly the Press Council) deals with complaints about the editorial content of newspapers, including their websites and news and current affairs content on websites of some broadcasters.

You can phone the NZMC on 0800 969 357 or email info@mediacouncil.org.nz.

A public consultation is when we seek the public’s views on an issue impacting the work that we do.  It may be about a proposed change to broadcasting codes or an issue relevant to broadcasting standards.

You can report a scam to either Netsafe or CERT.

More information about reporting scams, and contact information, is available on Consumer Protection

You may wish to contact Netsafe, New Zealand’s independent, non-profit online safety organisation. It is the appointed agency to receive, assess and investigate complaints about online bullying, harassment and abuse under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015.

You can call Netsafe on 0508 638 723, complete an online contact form here or email queries@netsafe.org.nz.

The BSA does not generally comment on whether we have received a complaint about a particular broadcast.

In most cases, formal complaints must be addressed by the broadcaster in the first instance. If a complainant is dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, they can then refer their complaint to the BSA (the exception is privacy and election programme complaints, which may be made directly to the BSA). If you would like further information about whether a complaint has been made about a programme , we suggest you contact the broadcaster directly.

All of the BSA’s decisions on complaints are available to view on our website here.

All of the BSA’s decisions on complaints are available to view on our website here.

You can also find out more about the complaints considered by the BSA in our Annual Reports.

BSA does not deal with reception interference or signal issues.

You may wish to contact Radio Spectrum Management (RSM). RSM manages the radio spectrum in New Zealand and is the agency responsible for issuing licences for radio frequencies. You can contact RSM by phone on 0508 776 463 or by email at info@rsm.govt.nz.

You could also contact Kordia for any television signal issues by phone on 09 551 7000.

For problems with Freeview, contact them here.

For problems with SKY, visit their website.

We do not deal with technical issues relating to the volume or sound of movies or other broadcast programmes. We suggest you direct your concerns to the broadcaster.

We do not deal with advertisements, other than promos for programmes.

You can contact Able, New Zealand’s television captioning and audio description service, which is funded by NZ On Air.

You may also wish to contact the responsible broadcaster.

No, BSA does not currently oversee content on social media.  Complaints about content on social media may be made to Netsafe, and in some cases, NZ Media Council.

The BSA recognises that in an election period it is important for election programme complaints to be determined quickly.  We adopt a fast track process. The process used in 2017 is available here.

The BSA, Electoral Commission, Advertising Standards Authority and NZ Media Council all have a role to play in dealing with complaints about election material. Guidance on who to complain to is in the table in our Quick Guide here.

You can make a formal complaint about the privacy standard only, directly to the BSA.

If you want to complain about other standards as well as privacy, make your formal complaint to the broadcasters.

For more information about other privacy issues see the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.