How to complain about a TV or radio programme

Introduction

If you have found a television or radio programme (not an advertisement) to be objectionable or offensive in some way, you may make a formal complaint under the BROADCASTING ACT 1989. You first complain to the particular TV or radio broadcaster, and if you are not satisfied with its response you can then complain to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

A formal complaint is different from an informal complaint, which is simply a letter to a broadcaster discussing your programming preferences.

First, write to the particular broadcaster

The first step in making a formal complaint is to write a letter directly to the Chief Executive of the broadcaster in question. You can find the addresses for the various TV and radio broadcasters on the website of the Broadcasting Standards Authority at www.bsa.govt.nz.

What should I include in the letter to the broadcaster?

In your letter you should include details of the date and time, and the channel or station on which the programme was broadcast. The letter must be received within 20 working days after the broadcast.

You should be detailed in your complaint, identifying what part of the programme you found to be objectionable and why. For a complaint to be upheld you must show that the broadcaster breached a standard with which the broadcaster is required to comply.

Where are the relevant standards laid down?

The standards are found in the BROADCASTING ACT 1989 and in the Codes of Broadcasting Practice for radio and television. You can obtain copies of these codes from the website of the Broadcasting Standards Authority at www.bsa.govt.nz. Your letter of complaint should preferably refer to specific standards from the Act and the relevant code.

The Act requires broadcasters to maintain standards consistent with:

  • the maintenance of law and order
  • the privacy of the individual
  • the observance of good taste and decency
  • the "balance" principle – that is, if controversial issues are discussed then reasonable efforts must be made to present a variety of different views

Under the Act, the Codes must provide for:

  • protection of children
  • how violence may be portrayed
  • fair and accurate programmes, and procedures for correcting factual errors and redressing unfairness
  • safeguards against people being portrayed in ways that encourage denigration of or discrimination against particular sections of the community
  • restrictions on the promotion of liquor
  • providing appropriate warnings for programmes, including programmes that have been classified as suitable only for particular audiences
  • the privacy of individuals

What if I'm not satisfied with the broadcaster's response?

The broadcaster must notify you in writing of its decision. If you are not satisfied with the broadcaster's approach or decision, you may appeal to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. You must do this within 20 working days.

Complaints to the Authority should be addressed to:

  • Broadcasting Standards Authority
    PO Box 9213
    Wellington

You may also refer your complaint to the Authority if the broadcaster has not, within 20 working days after receiving it, notified you of the decision made or action taken. This 20-day period may, however, be extended to 40 working days if the broadcaster, within 20 working days after receiving the complaint, notifies you in writing that it is unable to deal with the complaint within the prescribed 20-day period.

What can the Broadcasting Standards Authority do about my complaint?

The Broadcasting Standards Authority usually acts in an informal setting, and makes a decision based on written statements from both parties. But occasionally it may hold a formal hearing.

The Authority may do one of the following:

  • uphold the complaint
  • decline to uphold the complaint
  • decline to deal with the complaint on the grounds that it is trivial or frivolous

If your complaint is upheld, the Broadcasting Standards Authority will require the broadcaster to either:

  • publish a statement identifying the complaint and the decision, along with an apology, or
  • refrain from broadcasting advertisements for a period of up to 24 hours

If the broadcaster fails to comply with the decision it may be fined up to $100,000 by the Authority.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority's decisions are published.

Can I appeal the Authority's decision?

If you are unsatisfied with the decision of the Broadcasting Standards Authority or with the way in which your complaint was dealt with, you may appeal to the High Court.

Complaints that a programme has invaded your privacy

The Broadcasting Standards Authority also deals with situations where you believe that a particular programme has invaded your personal privacy. To make a complaint on this basis you must send a formal letter to the Authority within 20 working days. Complaints are made to the Authority directly, not to the broadcaster.

The procedure is similar to the informal process described above. If your complaint is upheld you may receive up to $5,000 compensation, along with an apology.

Cautionary notes
  • If you decide to appeal a decision of the Broadcasting Standards Authority to the High Court, it is advisable to use the services of a lawyer. Your lawyer will be able to assess the merits of your case and the remedies that might be available to you.


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