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BSA tackles new ‘vehemence’ and misinformation over COVID-19

Broadcasting complaints have taken on a new level of vehemence reflecting a growing polarisation around big issues such as COVID-19, the Broadcasting Standards Authority says.

The pandemic, and coverage of it, has generated increasingly passionate responses and seen the BSA dealing with misinformation and disinformation on significant public health issues, the Authority says in its latest annual report.

In her report introduction, BSA Chair Susie Staley says the Authority found that in the overwhelming majority of cases broadcasters had covered “the vicissitudes of the crisis” correctly and accurately.

“Some of our complainants think otherwise and have mis-used information to support their opinions. The Authority has taken a very consistent line on this, rejecting such misrepresentations through rigorous research while trying to understand the factors behind such complaints.

“There is a difference between the right to share opinions and being accurate with facts. The co-regulatory environment in which the BSA works plays a key role in ensuring people receive accurate information from broadcasters that they can trust and use,” Staley says.

The report notes that COVID-related issues have continued to dominate – accounting for over a quarter of complaints determined – with complainants at times expressing a level of vehemence beyond what has previously been encountered.

The BSA recently introduced a new policy to address threatening or abusive behaviour towards its complaints team and those of broadcasters, in which the Authority reserves the right to decline to determine complaints from people displaying such behaviour.

The Authority’s annual report for the year to June 2022 shows complaint volumes have remained high by historical standards. Features include:

  • The BSA received 849 enquiries from the public or broadcasters and 185 formal complaints. While this represents some easing compared with the previous year’s near-record numbers, the 173 decisions issued was up 8%. However, the percentage of decisions upheld this year fell to 4% from 9.4%.
  • News and current affairs was by far the most complained-about programme genre, with 126 complaints, more than five times the number for second-place radio/talkback. While this is down slightly on last year’s 133, it has edged up as a percentage (72%) of all complaints.
  • Complaints about talkback, factual and fictional programmes (25, 8 and 3 respectively) were all down on last year. Those involving other programmes such as sport, comedy and reality TV more than doubled to 23 but, as with last year, resulted in just one upheld decision.
  • Accuracy, balance, good taste and decency, fairness, and discrimination and denigration were again the most-cited standards, reflecting audiences’ focus on reliable and trustworthy content.
  • Law and order complaints leapt from eight to 21, driven in part by coverage of high-profile COVID protests. Just one of these was upheld.

Other highlights for the year include the BSA’s issuing of a new Code of Broadcasting Standards which for the first time gives audiences a single, simplified guide combining standards for pay TV, free-to-air TV and radio.

To ensure diverse audiences can engage with the broadcasting standards system and use the tools that support informed viewing choices, the Authority has published the new Code and a raft of other key resources in multiple languages.

The BSA has, however, acknowledged the “fragmentation, gaps and overlaps” in a regulatory system that has not kept pace with audiences, and warns this could further erode people’s trust in information.

The Authority has actively supported the Government’s review of content regulation, advocating for change towards a more flexible system that reflects the changing ways audiences consume content.



For further details on the Authority’s activities over the past year see the BSA Annual Report for the year to June 2022. All BSA decisions are available for viewing on our website.


The BSA is an independent Crown entity that oversees the broadcasting standards regime in New Zealand. The BSA determines complaints that broadcasts have breached standards, undertakes research and oversees the development of broadcasting standards in consultation with broadcasters.

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