Investigation concepts series | ACMA

Investigation concepts series


The ACMA regulates the broadcasting sector in Australia, including commercial and community radio, and free-to-air and subscription television. The ACMA can investigate code complaints first made to broadcasters, where the complainant remains dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response.

Find out more about broadcasting regulation

The various broadcast industry codes often employ general terms and phrases such as ‘accuracy’ and ‘impartiality’ about which there can be questions of interpretation. One task of the ACMA is giving meaning to such terms and deciding which broadcasts, viewed in context, cross the line between acceptable and unacceptable. Therefore, interpretative guidance offered by the ACMA can be crucial in helping broadcasters to understand their obligations and to apply them in different circumstances.

The ACMA has historically offered guidance in a range of areas through its published investigations reports. To broaden the usefulness of these published decisions, the ACMA has produced the Investigation concepts series with the aim of making an assessment of key areas of ACMA decision-making in relation to the broadcasting codes.

The ACMA’s Investigation concepts series is comprised of three papers, which share the insights developed through the ACMA's investigations work. The objective of the series is to identify how various important principles of broadcast content regulation have been exemplified, clarified or applied in ACMA decisions. The papers examine common threads in their specific topic area and sketch how these threads weave into a coherent investigation and compliance picture.

The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 provides that broadcast content should respect community standards and anticipates that what constitutes ‘appropriate community safeguards’ will vary according to the degree of influence different types of broadcasting services are able to exert in influencing community views. This degree of influence is likely to alter over time as societal norms shift and technological innovations change the daily lives of Australians and their media consumption habits.


The first paper in the series, Investigation concepts—Accuracy, considers the requirements for accuracy in news, current affairs and other factual programs that are set out in industry codes of practice.

Matters covered in the paper include:

  • content that attracts the accuracy obligations
  • assessing the meaning of factual material
  • reasonable efforts to ensure accuracy
  • obligations to correct errors in accuracy.

Fairness, impartiality and viewpoints

The second paper, Investigation concepts—Fairness, impartiality and viewpoints, considers the requirements for fairness, impartiality and viewpoints that are set out in industry codes of practice.

Matters covered in the paper include:

  • content that attracts the fairness, impartiality and viewpoints obligations
  • 'principal relevant' viewpoints, 'diversity of viewpoints' and 'significant viewpoints'
  • the distinction(s) between balance and impartiality
  • factors relevant to the consideration of impartiality and fairness
  • the fair treatment of individuals.

Decency, classification, and harm and offence

The third paper, Investigation concepts—Decency, classification, and harm and offence, considers the requirements for decency, classification, and harm and offence, that are set out in industry codes of practice.

Matters covered in the paper include:

  • the requirements relating to decency, classification, and harm and offence
  • the way the ACMA ‘operationalises’ these requirements in its work, while considering community standards and expectations in broadcasting
  • the shifting and evolving nature of ‘community standards’ over time.

The Investigation concepts series includes digital links to relevant investigations to provide context into the broad principles and concepts behind the codes’ requirements.

The series is intended to make the ACMA’s regulatory approach to broadcasting investigations clearer and more accessible for both broadcasters and the wider community.

The ACMA welcomes feedback on the papers, which can be made here. The papers in this series are ‘living’ documents, and the ACMA regularly updates the information in each to keep them current and helpful to the broadcasting industry and citizens alike. The most recent updates were made in July 2018.


Name of report


Investigation concepts—Accuracy

490 kB

Investigation concepts—Fairness, impartiality and viewpoints

441 kB

Investigation concepts—Decency, classification, and harm and offence

623 kB

Last updated: 14 March 2019