Freedoms and Fetters: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand

Freedoms and Fetters: Broadcasting Standards in Ne…
01 May 2006

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) frequently surveys New Zealanders on their attitudes towards various broadcasting standards. The BSA’s function in this regard is prescribed by the Broadcasting Act 1989: ‘To conduct research and publish findings on matters relating to standards in broadcasting’.

This study focuses on two major types of broadcasting standard: the journalistic standards of balance and fairness in their application to factual programming, and good taste and decency, a standard that is applicable generally. A genre of broadcasting, talk radio, is used to discuss issues of balance and fairness; the discussion about good taste and decency springs from an analysis of past BSA decisions. A third element, the right to freedom of expression, is explored in focus groups.

The report consists of six studies. Each study offers a different perspective and employs different methodologies from which to examine the selected standards.


  • Focuses on balance, fairness, good taste and decency
  • Used talk radio to discuss issues of balance and fairness
  • Findings of the survey about public attitudes towards free-to-air broadcasting standards add to the BSA’s longitudinal research, last reported in 2000


  • For balance and fairness uses focus-group discussion
  • For good taste and decency uses analysis of past BSA decisions
  • Survey about public attitudes towards free-to-air broadcasting standards – conducted during May and June 2005 with 500 members of the general public aged 18 years and over

Key Results

Balance and fairness

  • It was felt that consumer advocacy TV programmes and talk radio do not need to be as balanced as news and current affairs
  • Older participants appear to be more concerned than younger ones that news is reliable, and that programmes treat individuals and organisations fairly
  • There were conflicting viewpoints on of talk radio’s role in a democratic society: that talk radio is an important ingredient in democratic nation building versus that talk radio is only an outlet for extremist views and may be a danger to democracy rather than supporting it
  • Talk radio in New Zealand has become an entertainment medium and no longer plays a vital role in the democratic process
  • Talk radio broadcasters need to create an audience for financial gain, but its practitioners recognise their accountability to listeners for issues such as accuracy, balance and fairness
  • Discuss issues of balance and fairness, the standard of social responsibility (which is a standard specific to radio broadcasters) and the right to freedom of expression

Good taste and decency

  • New Zealand society is diverse, and people’s expectations of broadcasting vary according to age, culture, religion and personal values
  • While the broadcasting standards refer to ‘current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour’, there are no uniform standards or norms that the BSA can apply mechanically to good taste and decency complaints

National Survey

  • Majority of the public continue to consider it important that an independent organisation should be responsible for overseeing the standard of broadcasting in New Zealand
  • As in the 1993 and 2000 BSA studies, the most frequently mentioned concerns relate to the portrayal of violence, sex and nudity, and bad language
  • Compared with 2000, there may be a higher level of concern about sexual content and bad language on television
  • One third of New Zealanders describe concerns about what they hear on radio, with the most common concern being bad language
  • While balance, fairness and accuracy standards are seen as very important in all factual formats on both television and radio, the public indicates that accuracy is of paramount importance especially for television news broadcasts
  • With regard to ‘bad language’ there has been a slight softening of attitudes overall, but the words the public find unacceptable in broadcasting in 2005 are largely the same as those found unacceptable five years ago
  • As with the 2000 research, in 2005 the strongest determinant of whether a scene is acceptable or not relates to the time of broadcast (before or after 8.30pm)
  • While society may have become more liberal over time, there is more concern now about protecting children as compared to the 2000 study
  • This is likely to have been contributed to by the high profile prosecutions seen in recent years for child abuse, paedophilia, and possession of child pornography
Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018