Free to air code of broadcasting

The Broadcasting Act 1989 requires every broadcaster to be responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with:

  1. The observance of good taste and decency
  2. The maintenance of law and order
  3. The privacy of the individual
  4. The principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view, either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest
  5. Any approved Code of Broadcasting Practice applied to programmes.

Click to download a copy of the Free-to-Air Television Code

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) is responsible for administering the standards regime, determining formal complaints and encouraging broadcasters to develop and observe appropriate Codes of Broadcasting Practice.

This Code, the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, has been prepared by the New Zealand Television Broadcasters’ Council on behalf of TV One, TV2, TV3, C4, Maori Television and other free-to-air services.

In the application of this Code, the ethic of social responsibility is recognised both by broadcasters and the Authority.

Under section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, there is a right to freedom of expression. When the Authority makes decisions on complaints, it will consider and apply the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Broadcasters and the BSA also acknowledge that New Zealand is party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Grounds for a Formal Complaint

Formal complaints allege that the broadcaster has failed in its responsibility to maintain one or more of the broadcasting standards set out in Standards 1 to 11 below.

Standard 1: Good Taste and Decency
Standard 2: Law and Order
Standard 3: Privacy
Standard 4: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints
Standard 5: Accuracy
Standard 6: Fairness
Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration
Standard 8: Responsible Programming
Standard 9: Children’s Interests
Standard 10: Violence
Standard 11: Liquor

About This Code

The requirements of the Code are set out in each standard. Each standard has a number of associated guidelines. These guidelines do not, of themselves, impose requirements on a broadcaster. They are included to provide interpretative assistance for broadcasters and the public, and indicate factors that the broadcaster should consider when assessing whether a programme complies with a particular standard. A programme which does not adhere to the letter of a particular guideline may not be in breach, depending on the programme’s overall compliance with the relevant standard.

How To Make a Formal Complaint

Formal complaints must be:

  • made in writing; and
  • lodged with the broadcaster concerned within 20 working days of the broadcast.

The one exception is an allegation of breach of privacy (Standard 3) which may be made directly to the BSA without first being referred to the broadcaster. This can be done through the BSA website.

Formal complaints should specify:

  • the name of the programme
  • the date and time of broadcast
  • the standard(s) alleged to have been breached and the reasons why

Free-to-Air broadcasters are also required to comply with the Programme Code covering Election Programmes such as Opening and Closing Addresses and Advertisements. A copy of this Code is on the BSA’s website, complaints under this Code are made direct to the BSA.

Apart from programme promotions and broadcast political advertising, the BSA has no jurisdiction over advertisements. Complaints about advertisements should be made to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board (

Copies of all broadcasting codes are available from the BSA and from its website.