Skip to main content

How to complain step by step

Follow this diagram, choosing either yes or no, to see each step of the complaints process:

Please enable JavaScript to view this diagram.

Please note that the complaints process does take some time. It is unlikely you will get an instant answer or resolution. How long the process takes will depend on how far you choose to take your complaint. If you complain to the broadcaster and then you go on to refer your complaint to the BSA, it could be a number of months after the original date of the broadcast that you get a final decision – or even longer if the complaint is complex or raises many different issues. If you refer your complaint, the BSA will do its best to keep you up to date on the progress of your complaint and when you can reasonably expect a decision. For more information about this process, see below under the heading ‘How does the BSA handle complaints?’

The information below appears in the following order:

  • When can I complain?
  • What type of programme can I complain about? / What we cover
  • Who do I complain to, as a first step? / Make a complaint now

It is important to familiarise yourself with all this information before you start the process of making your complaint.

When can I complain?

You need to make your complaint within 20 working days of the broadcast.
You cannot complain about a show before it has aired.

What type of programme can I complain about?

You can complain about any programme that has been screened or played in New Zealand on television or radio. This includes live streaming.

The BSA does not accept complaints about advertising, internet content or programme scheduling.

What we cover / What we don't cover

Who do I complain to, as a first step?

Your complaint generally goes to the broadcaster first, but some complaints come straight to the BSA.

The first thing is to decide what type of complaint you are making  choose the type of complaint from the list in 'Make a complaint now'.

  • Make a complaint now

    There are four types of complaint – formal, privacy, referral, and election programme and you need to choose the relevant one for the content you are complaining about.

    1.  Do you want to complain about the content of a programme or about the time it was shown?


    Formal complaint

    This type of complaint goes straight to the broadcaster (except for privacy issues on their own and election items).

    You need to complain in writing (which can be via post, email or online form) about a specific broadcast and list one or more of the broadcasting standards that you consider have been breached. These are set out under the Codes of Broadcasting Practice.

    The BSA cannot consider complaints that do not fit within the broadcasting standards.

    Go to Formal complaint

    2.  Do you want to complain about someone’s privacy being breached (but nothing else)?

    Privacy complaint

    A privacy complaint comes straight to the BSA. It is a written complaint about a specific broadcast that you believe infringes someone’s privacy. You need to list the specific privacy principles under the Privacy Standard that you consider have been breached.

    Go to Privacy complaint

    3.  Do you want to complain about how a broadcaster has handled your complaint?


    A referral is a written complaint to the BSA asking for a review of the way the broadcaster has handled your complaint. This can be because you’re unhappy with the broadcaster’s response or because the broadcaster did not respond to your complaint within the set time (20 working days of a formal complaint being received). 

    Go to Referral

    4.  Do you want to complain about an election programme (in election year)?

    Election Programme complaint

    An election programme complaint comes straight to the BSA. It is a written complaint about a specific broadcast that you think breaches the Election Programme Code.

    See General Guidance on Election Programmes

    Just want to express your concern?

    If you just want to express your concern to the broadcaster rather than make a formal complaint, you should phone them or send them an email or letter.

    Go to Broadcaster Links


  • What happens to complaints to broadcasters?

    After a broadcaster receives your formal complaint, they have 20 working days to send you a decision. They need to:

    • give you a written response
    • tell you whether or not your complaint has been upheld
    • advise you of your right to refer your complaint to the BSA if you are not satisfied with the decision.

    You then have 20 working days from receiving that response to refer the decision to the BSA.

    You would refer a decision if you were unhappy with the broadcaster's response or if the broadcaster had upheld part or all of your complaint and you were unhappy with the action they took after upholding it.

    If you have not heard from the broadcaster within 20 working days you may immediately refer your complaint to the BSA.

    Note that in certain cases broadcasters may ask for an additional 20 working days, especially if your complaint is a complex one. They are allowed to do this so long as they inform you within the original 20 working day period that they are exercising this right.

    Also note that the 'working days' time period is suspended between December 25 and January 15. This means that the working day period effectively pauses during that time.

  • How does the BSA handle complaints?

    What happens to complaints to the BSA?

    When the BSA receives a referral or a privacy complaint from you (or an election complaint in an election period), it sends a copy of your complaint to the broadcaster for comment and also asks for a recording of the broadcast. If the complaint is a referral, it asks for copies of all the correspondence relating to your complaint.

    If the broadcaster makes any comments the BSA forwards them to you and asks for your final submissions. You don't have to make any further comments at this stage, but you can if you wish.

    If you do make any final submissions, the BSA forwards them to the broadcaster.

    Once the broadcaster has made its final submissions, and the BSA has received all the relevant information, your complaint is placed on the agenda for the next board meeting.

    The four board members meet to consider complaints once every five weeks. They examine all the correspondence, view/listen to the programme, discuss the complaint, and decide whether or not to uphold it.

    In most cases it will only take one meeting to decide the complaint, but if the members require more information, or they are going to uphold the complaint and have to consider orders, it may take more than one meeting. You will be kept up to date with the status of your complaint.

    Note that your name will be included in the BSA's written decision.

    The board does consider requests for name suppression when dealing with privacy complaints. For all other types of complaint, the board is unlikely to agree to name suppression. However, if you believe there are special reasons that you should receive name suppression please advise the BSA  you can do this at any time before the decision is released.

    What orders can the board make?

    If the board decides that the broadcast breached one of the standards in the Codes it will uphold your complaint. At that point it will consider whether it needs to make an order.

    If it decides there's no need to make an order it will release the decision.

    If it's considering making an order it will write to you and to the broadcaster asking for your opinions on what should happen. It then decides whether to make, or not make, an order.

    If it decides to make an order, there are various orders it can make. The broadcaster must comply with the order; if it doesn't, it could be liable for a fine.

    BSA Orders

    What happens when the BSA releases a decision?

    • The written decision is sent to you and to the broadcaster within 20 working days of the board meeting.
    • The decision is sent to media and subscribers approximately 3 working days after you and the broadcaster have received it.
    • The decision is uploaded onto this website on the same day.

      Note that the BSA NEVER releases the contact details of complainants to the media.