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.

You can complain about any programme broadcast in New Zealand on TV 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 give details of previous TV or radio broadcast of the content and lodge your complaint within 20 working days of that broadcast)
  • Election advertisements on TV or radio (during election periods)

You can complain to the BSA 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

To help you decide which is most relevant to your concerns see our guide to choosing a standard. The standards are explained in more detail in the Codes of Broadcasting Practice.

You can also complain to us about election programmes, which come under a separate code.

You must complain to the broadcaster first (unless your complaint is about privacy only or about election programmes, in which case you can send it straight to the BSA). To go through the BSA process, it has to be a ‘formal complaint’.

If you just want to let the broadcaster know your concerns, or it’s not an issue that can come to the BSA, it will be considered an ‘informal complaint’.

Contact details for major broadcasters are here.

The BSA can only consider ‘formal complaints’ about programmes. These must:

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

If you’re complaining to the broadcaster, you need to make your complaint within 20 working days of the broadcast.

If you’re referring your complaint to the BSA, you must do so within 20 working days of receiving the broadcaster’s decision, or if the broadcaster didn’t respond, within 60 working days of the original broadcast.

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

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

You can still give feedback to the broadcaster, but they don’t have to consider your complaint under the formal complaints process.

The BSA cannot accept a complaint received outside the stated time periods.

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

Complaints referred to the BSA will generally be decided within three months. However, timeframes vary depending on complexity, input required from the parties and whether the BSA considers it across two or more meetings. BSA staff will keep you informed of progress.

The broadcaster can extend its response time from 20 working days to 40 working days, as long as they let you know within the initial 20 working days and give a reason.

If you still haven’t heard from them within 40 working days of when they received your complaint, you can refer the matter to the BSA, as long as it’s within 60 working days of the broadcast.

If you’re dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response to you or the action they’ve taken, you can refer your complaint to us for review and investigation. The BSA can’t take any action over your complaint until this time.

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.

When the BSA considers making an order in relation to an upheld complaint, we ask the complainant and broadcaster for their views.

These will be considered along with 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 the wider audience
  • the objectives of the upheld standard(s)
  • the attitude and actions of the broadcaster – such as whether they upheld the complaint and/or took mitigating steps; or disputed the breach and/or aggravated any harm caused
  • past decisions and orders in similar cases.

Cost awards are usually to contribute to expenses such as legal fees incurred from the complaints process. See our guidance in the Codebook.

The BSA may order costs against a complainant only if it finds the complaint is frivolous or vexatious, or one that ought not to have been made; or if, in some limited circumstances, it considers it appropriate to do so due to the complainant failing to follow through with their complaint.

If the BSA upholds a complaint and decides a broadcaster has breached standards, there are different orders it may make. See Outcomes & Remedies.

The written decision will be sent to you and the broadcaster first. You’ll be asked to keep it confidential for a short time until it’s publicly released.

The decision is then published on the BSA website, and reported in the BSA newsletter. Sometimes we issue a media release but we never release the contact details of complainants.

If the complainant or broadcaster doesn’t agree with our decision they can appeal to the High Court. 

This must be lodged within one month after the parties are 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.

Complaints which are only about the privacy standard can be made directly to the BSA. This is because privacy is recognised in broadcasting standards as 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.

Complaints about election programmes can be made 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. 

When we receive a complaint, we’ll give the broadcaster and the political party or candidate a chance to comment. We’ll also ask the broadcaster for a copy of the programme. We try to deal with election programme complaints as quickly as possible, so the parties will be expected to respond promptly. Once we’ve considered all parties’ submissions, we’ll issue our written decision to the parties and advise them when the decision will be publicly released on the BSA website.

We don’t oversee content for on-demand services, apart from certain exceptions:

  • Under a special agreement, we deal with content standards and complaints for Neon.
  • We can consider complaints about broadcast content that’s then put online, as long as you can point to the original broadcast and complain within 20 working days of this.

Some on-demand providers such as Netflix and Lightbox have signed up to the NZ Media Council VOD Code which sees programmes classified to help people make informed viewing choices.

On YouTube, if you see content you believe violates the platform’s Community Guidelines you can report it directly to YouTube. More information is available on YouTube’s website here.

 

The complaints process is free of charge.

This is the process required under the Broadcasting Act 1989. It gives the broadcaster a chance to answer your complaint first and take action, if appropriate. If you’re satisfied with their answer you can choose not to take the complaint further.

The BSA has no such powers. We become involved only when formal complaints come to us about specific programmes.

The broadcaster must decide the language in a warning or audience advisory under the broadcasting standards. We don’t review these or provide examples, as the wording required will be context-specific.

If you think a warning wasn’t adequate, you can make a formal complaint to the broadcaster in the first instance.

The BSA does not generally have the power to cancel programmes or take them off air. In some cases, if we uphold a complaint, we can order that further programmes in a series are not shown, or that a broadcaster can’t broadcast for a time (up to 24 hours for each programme for which a complaint has been upheld). This power is used rarely.

We cannot generally stop a programme from airing. If you’re concerned about whether scheduled content should be aired, contact the broadcaster.

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

We do not approve programmes before they’re aired or make decisions about what can be aired. Programme selection, editorial and scheduling decisions are the responsibility of broadcasters. If you’re concerned about whether scheduled content should be aired, contact the broadcaster.

If you’d like to complain about a broadcast once it has aired, you can find more information here

Broadcaster contact details

No. The BSA can only respond to formal complaints about content once it has been broadcast. We can’t take any action before a programme is aired, unless it falls within the BSA’s limited power to stop further programmes in a series.

If you have concerns about a programme before it airs, these are best directed to the broadcaster.

No. The Broadcasting Standards Codes describe the classifications (ratings) that broadcasters must use for programmes. Broadcasters carry out the appraisal and classification of individual programmes.

If you have questions about a programme’s classification, these are best directed to the broadcaster. If you think the classification wasn’t adequate, you can make a formal complaint to the broadcaster in the first instance.

We don’t make programme scheduling decisions. This is the responsibility of broadcasters. You can give feedback to the broadcaster about the time a programme is shown.

If you believe a programme aired at an unsuitable time, you can make a formal complaint to the broadcaster in the first instance.

For guidance on which standards apply see choosing a standard.

We can’t give specific advice on whether a programme might breach standards, as this could risk pre-determining the Authority’s views if we received a complaint.

We can give general guidance about broadcasting standards and factors the Authority may consider.

All our previous decisions are published on our website. These contain guidance and you can see if we’ve considered a similar issue.

We don’t generally comment on whether we’ve received a complaint about a particular broadcast.

In most cases, complaints must go to the broadcaster first. You could ask the broadcaster if a programme has been complained about.

Once complaints are determined, we publish the decisions on our website.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) deals with most advertisements for products, services or organisations on TV, radio, the internet, print and billboards.

Contact the ASA by email at asa@asa.co.nz or phone 0800 234 357.

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

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

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

By law, advertising must not be broadcast on radio on Christmas Day, Good Friday or Easter Sunday; or on TV between 6am and noon on Sunday or Anzac Day or at any time on Christmas Day, Good Friday or Easter Sunday. There are some exceptions.

Complaints about advertising at these times or questions about exceptions should be directed to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

We suggest you direct your concerns to the broadcaster. The sound volume of adverts is not something the BSA can deal with under broadcasting standards. 

We don’t deal with issues relating to the volume or sound of programmes. We suggest you direct your concerns to the broadcaster.

It depends what your complaint is about:

  • An election programme on TV or radio during the general election period: BSA
  • An election advertisement in other media, including print, online, pamphlets or billboards: Advertising Standards Authority
  • A programme discussing election matters on TV or radio (or on-demand, provided it was broadcast on TV or radio): the broadcaster (within 20 working days)
  • Discussion of election matters in editorial content (as distinct from advertising) in NZ Media Council members’ publications: NZ Media Council
  • Compliance with requirements such as promoter statements, written authorisation, allocation of funding, timing of broadcasting, or expense limits: Electoral Commission

If in doubt, check the table in our Quick Guide here.

If we receive a complaint that ought to be considered by the Electoral Commission, Media Council or Advertising Standards Authority, we’ll forward your complaint to them and let you know.

We address complaints about ‘election programmes’ on TV or radio, and decide if they breach the Election Programmes Code. These complaints can be made directly to the BSA and we deal with them via a fast-track process.

Only general elections or by-elections for MPs are covered by this Code.

The BSA also considers complaints about other programmes which may relate to the election (eg, news, current affairs, satire and comment), under normally applicable broadcasting standards. 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.

Complaints over requirements such as promoter statements, written authorisation, allocation of funding, timing of broadcasting, or expense limits are dealt with by the Electoral Commission. The Advertising Standards Authority and NZ Media Council also deal with complaints about election advertising and coverage.

For more information about who you should complain to, see our Who does what? elections guide.

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 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.

Only programmes broadcast for political parties or constituency candidates are considered election programmes, and these will usually appear as short promotional/campaign clips.

Programmes initiated by broadcasters or other third parties are not considered ‘election programmes’.

This means TV and radio programmes including news, comment, current affairs or comedy in relation to an election are not subject to the Election Programmes Code.

However, complaints about these programmes can be considered by the broadcaster under the normally applicable broadcasting standards, and then referred to the BSA if the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome.

If the item is a third party-initiated ‘election advertisement’, it may be subject to requirements under the Electoral Act. Complaints about these can be made to the Advertising Standards Authority.

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

In an election period, we have a fast-track process to ensure election programme complaints are determined quickly. The process used in 2020 can be seen here.

We can only consider complaints that fit within broadcasting standards, about the content or classification of a programme or the time it was aired. Complaints on other issues can be made to the broadcaster.

All decisions on complaints can be seen on our website here.

You can find out more about the number and types of complaints in our Annual Reports.

The New Zealand Media 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.

No. Complaints about content on social media can be made to Netsafe, and, in some cases, NZ Media Council.

Terms and conditions of competitions are not generally something that can be dealt with under broadcasting standards. Queries are best directed to the broadcaster

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.

A publicity notice is a promo by a broadcaster on how to make complaints. Broadcasters are required by law to air these so people know they can complain if they think a programme has breached broadcasting standards.

For more information, see Publicity Notices.

Broadcasters that make more than $500,000 in annual revenue from broadcasting in New Zealand pay a set proportion of this to the BSA. This ‘broadcasting levy’ helps fund the standards system and BSA operations.

For more information, see Broadcasting Levy.

We commission and publish research as part of our role to oversee and develop the broadcasting standards system.

Our research helps us understand community attitudes and expectations around broadcasting and to make sure our decisions reflect society’s diverse, contemporary views and opinions.

It also helps broadcasters to understand what the community thinks and how the standards apply.

We don't deal with reception interference or signal issues.

Radio Spectrum Management (RSM) manages the radio spectrum in New Zealand. You can contact RSM by phone on 0508 776 463 or by email at info@rsm.govt.nz.

Contact Kordia for any television signal issues, on 09 551 7000.

For problems with Freeview, contact them here.

For problems with Sky, visit their website.

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 broadcaster.