Frequently asked questions Ngā Pātai e Kaha Whiua Nei

Complaints

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).

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?

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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 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.

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.

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)

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.

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.

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.

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.