Community broadcasting complaints & investigations | ACMA

Community broadcasting complaints & investigations

This page explains how to make complaints about community broadcasters and how they will be handled. You can make a complaints about community broadcasting services to the Australian Community and Media Authority (the ACMA):

This section of the ACMA website provides information about:

Making a complaint

Write to a station as soon as possible, preferably no more than six weeks after the relevant broadcast or incident. If your complaint is sent a long time, say, two months, after a program has been broadcast, the station may no longer have a tape of the program, or the program may no longer be broadcast by the station. This would make it difficult for the station to consider the complaint.

If you then complained to the ACMA about the matter, the lateness of your complaint might raise the question as to whether it is frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith. If the ACMA decides to investigate a complaint but a copy of the broadcast is not available, it will not be possible to review the program and this may mean that a decision cannot be made.

To make a complaint in writing to the ACMA about a code of practice or licence condition matter, complete the broadcasting complaint form available on the ACMA's website.

When making a complaint to the ACMA, remember to attach:

  • a copy of your complaint to the station
  • a copy of the station's response, if you received one
  • any other relevant correspondence with the station.

If you require interpreter assistance, it can be arranged free of charge by contacting the Telephone Interpreter Service from anywhere in Australia during business hours (Eastern Standard Time) on 131 450.

Your personal details

If your complaint is about a code of practice breach, the ACMA’s will disclose your identity to the licensee, as your complaint should already have been made to the licensee. If your complaint is about a licence condition, the ACMA’s practice is to not disclose your identity to the licensee, as complainants may come directly to the ACMA. The usual practice is to not provide a complainant’s details in an investigation report.

The ACMA does not investigate complaints that do not include a return address or are made anonymously.

Complaints the ACMA does not deal with

The ACMA is unable to investigate a complaint that is not covered by the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 or regulations, licence conditions or code of practice. This includes complaints about issues that are the responsibility of a licensee, another government agency or an industry body. Examples are listed in the table below.

Type of complaint

Who can handle complaint

Handle complaints about a station's choice of programming

Station’s responsibility

Resolve disputes among station volunteers and members

Station responsibility or seek Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) or Australian Community Television Alliance (ACTA) assistance

Offer a mediating role for internal conflict resolution

Station responsibility or seek CBAA or ACTA assistance

Consider internal management or constitution matters

Seek CBAA or ACTA assistance or consult the State or Territory Office of Fair Trading or Consumer Affairs Department

Review complaints about articles published by the print media

Australian Press Council

Deal with defamation claims

Seek own legal advice

Licensees’ responsibilities

If a licensee receives a complaint about a code matter, it must, by law, provide a response within 60 days.

Under clause 7.2 of the Community Radio Code of Practice 2008 and clause 2.3 of the Community Television Code of Practice 2003, licensees must make every reasonable effort to resolve a complaint, except where it is frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith.

Clause 7.3 of the Radio Code and clause 2.4 of the Television Code include a provision for licensees to advise you in writing that you have the right to refer their complaint to the ACMA if you are dissatisfied with the licensee’s response.

If you do not receive a response within 60 days, or receive a response but consider it to be inadequate, you may then make a complaint to the ACMA about the matter. It is therefore in the interest of licensees to, as far as is practicable, resolve complaints so that they are not escalated to the ACMA. If a complaint is escalated to the ACMA, the relevant licensee will be required to thoroughly address the issues and provide evidence to support their claims.

Investigating a complaint

The ACMA may take any of the following actions to deal with a complaint:

  • respond to the complainant that the complaint does not, on the face of it, establish a breach by the licensee and, in the circumstances, no further investigation is warranted
  • find that the complaint is frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith
  • conduct an investigation as part of a community broadcasting licence renewal inquiry
  • conduct an investigation.

Whether a complaint is made in good faith

Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the ACMA can determine whether or not a complaint is frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith. This is to prevent abuse of the ACMA’s complaints handling and investigation process.

Each new complaint is reviewed and previous relevant evidence and findings of fact can be considered. For example, relevant history and the nature of complaints by a complainant against a particular licensee may be taken into account.

In making a finding that a complaint is frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith, the ACMA asks a series of questions, such as:

  • what is the motive of the complainant or their purpose in making the complaint?
  • is the complaint genuine or is it made maliciously or to achieve an ulterior purpose?

Conducting an investigation

The timeframe for completing a community broadcasting investigation is 12 weeks. However, investigations may take longer when there are several complex issues to consider and/or several broadcasts to review.

The ACMA requires the relevant licensee to thoroughly address the issues and provide evidence to support their claims. When an investigation is concluded, the ACMA will notify the complainant of the result and provides a copy to the relevant licensee. This may be in the form of a letter or a report.

If the ACMA does not find a breach, details of the complaint and the outcome of the investigation are published on the ACMA’s website, the ACMA’s monthly publication ACMAsphere and the ACMA’s Annual Report.

If a breach occurs, the ACMA will issue a media release, including details of any remedial action taken by the licensee and/or further enforcement action. Outcomes are also recorded in this table of enforcement actions.

The provisions for making a complaint about a community broadcasting licensee’s compliance with a code of practice or licence condition, and the requirement for the ACMA to investigate a complaint (or not investigate a complaint if it is frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith), are set out at Part 11 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.

Reports on community broadcasting investigations are available at the locations below:

Last updated: 05 July 2016