New Zealand Law Society - Huge surge in complaints to broadcasting watchdog

Huge surge in complaints to broadcasting watchdog

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The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) says a 54% increase in complaints it received in the 2107-18 financial year shows that New Zealanders are engaged with broadcast content and value broadcasting standards highly.

In its 2018 annual report, the BSA notes that it received 174 complaints, 1,303 enquiries and issued 103 decisions in the last financial year. Only 14 decisions upheld complaints that television or radio programmes breached broadcasting standards, indicating that overall broadcasters are meeting their obligations under the standards.

“This past year the Authority received a large number of complaints, reflecting that New Zealanders are engaged in an ongoing conversation about freedom of expression in New Zealand, and that they expect broadcasters to maintain high standards,” says BSA Chief Executive Belinda Moffat.

“Many of the complaints considered by the Authority in the last year raised complex issues which highlight the need for broadcasters to carefully balance the right to freedom of expression and the avoidance of harm to individuals or the community.”  

News and current affairs shows under the spotlight

Most complaints to the BSA related to news and current affairs programmes, raising issues under the fairness, accuracy and balance standards. Only a small number of these complaints were upheld, indicating the BSA says that, generally, broadcasters are working within the standards expected of them. It also highlights that the threshold justifying the BSA’s intervention in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression is high. Good taste and decency and children’s interests were the first and fourth most complained about standards.

In addition to its complaints work, which included dealing with complaints about election programmes in the 2017 General Election, the BSA provided education and guidance on the standards to broadcasters through workshops. It also issued research on language that may offend in broadcasting and the use of social media content in broadcasting.  

Incoming Chair, Judge Bill Hastings, says “the BSA is operating in a dynamic media environment, where broadcast content continues to provide a substantial amount of entertainment, news and information to New Zealanders.  Broadcasting standards offer an ethical compass for broadcasters and gives the public confidence that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, whilst valued highly in New Zealand, is not unlimited. ”  

You can read the full annual report here