Frequently asked questions Ngā Pātai e Kaha Whiua Nei

Complaints

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?

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The complaints process is free of charge.

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 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.

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.

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.