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COVID-19 and elections help drive broadcasting complaints to a 10-year high

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has had its busiest year for complaints in more than a decade as COVID-19 and elections here and in the US drove high audience engagement with broadcast material.

The BSA received 206 complaints in the year to June, up by more than half (52%) on the previous year, and issued 160 decisions (up 44%).

Fifteen complaints were upheld, and the Authority made 13 orders. However, despite the spike in complaints the number of upholds was down on the 16 decisions upheld the year before.

Accuracy and balance, key standards for coverage of elections and an historic health pandemic, attracted the most complaints (97 and 68, respectively), followed by good taste and decency (59), fairness (55) and discrimination and denigration (46).

As with the year before, TV was the most complained about broadcaster type, with 115 complaints, while radio accounted for 76. News and current affairs was the programme genre to attract the most complaints (133, up from 88 in 2019/20), followed by radio/talkback (29, up from 23).

“The upsurge in complaints has come amid a period of enormous uncertainty in areas spanning health, politics, the environment and economy. This is a stressful time for communities and audiences, and the BSA is a pressure valve,” said BSA Chief Executive Glen Scanlon.

“Throughout this time, broadcasters have played a vital role in informing and entertaining audiences and holding leaders to account.”

Major decisions in 2020/21 included new guidance in March drawing a line under complaints about the use of te reo Māori in broadcasts. The Authority noted Māori was an official language whose use was protected and promoted by law and encouraged broadcasters to respond to complaints indicating that broadcasting in te reo it is not a breach of standards.

During the year, the Authority also initiated a review of the Broadcasting Standards Codebook, with a public consultation expected early in 2022.

The BSA has continued to raise awareness of the filtering tools parents and carers can use to protect children from unsuitable TV content, as lockdowns increased the risk of young people viewing outside normal times.



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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