Media mistakes happen — but sometimes their perpetrators don't realise that until it's pointed out. If your blood is boiling because of an inaccurate news story, here's how to go about making an official complaint in Australia.
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Who you should complain to varies depending on the medium involved. However, there's one rule you should always follow: put your complaint first to the TV network/newspaper publisher/web site operator involved, and then follow up with the relevant regulatory body if you don't receive a satisfactory response. That's a requirement in many cases, and common sense regardless. Hit the web site and find a "Contact us" link. (For commercial TV networks, here's a handy list.)
Take The Right Approach
Put it in writing. It may feel more immediately satisfying to complain by making a phone call or by pointing out issues on Twitter, but that won't necessarily have an effect. Do those things as well if you wish, but a written complaint — sent either via email or as an old-fashioned printed letter — is generally the route to follow.
Remain calm and polite. Being abusive and dictatorial is unlikely to advance your cause. Case in point from Lifehacker: we welcome comments pointing out errors, because we don't claim that we're perfect. But adding a swearing-filled suffix to the effect that everyone who works here is hopeless and incompetent is going to see your comment deleted, because we're not here to foster a culture of abuse either.
Choose the right target. A scattergun approach of complaining to everyone you can think of is a waste of energy. Make sure you've picked the appropriate body (we've made notes on which ones are relevant below).
Be timely. Many bodies impose a 30-day limit after publication or broadcast for accepting complaints.
Who To Complain To: TV
Free TV Australia
Who it covers: Commercial TV networks: Seven, Nine and Ten and their regional equivalents. It doesn't cover the ABC, SBS or Foxtel.
What it will consider: Complaints about the content of TV shows that potentially violates the industry Code Of Practice. Complaints about advertising aren't considered (see the Advertising Standards Bureau below). You must lodge your complaint within 30 days of broadcast. You can complain by post or via an online form.
Website: Free TV Australia Viewer Feedback
Who it covers: ABC TV, radio and online services
What it will consider: Any complaint about ABC content. You can lodge via an online form, and request a response.
Website: ABC Lodge A Complaint
Who it covers: SBS TV, radio and online services.
What it will consider: Both informal and formal complaints. Formal complaints must be made within six weeks of the program being broadcast. Complaints about advertising should go to the Advertising Standards Bureau (see below).
Website: SBS Complaints & Feedback
Who it covers: Programs transmitted on Foxtel.
What it will consider: Foxtel's online complaints form says it will "do its best to get back to you within five days", but doesn't offer any more detail.
Website: Foxtel Complaints
Who To Complain To: Radio
For the ABC and SBS, see the TV section above. For commercial radio stations, you need to contact the individual station and lodge a complaint. If you're not satisfied with the response, you can follow up with ACMA (discussed below).
Who To Complain To: General
Newspaper picture from Shutterstock
Press Council Of Australia
Who it covers: Publishers which are members of the council (this includes News, Fairfax and most other large publishers, but not everyone — the West Australian is one notable exception).
What it will consider: Any material published in a member body publication. Complaints must be received within 30 days of publication.
Website: Press Council Making A Complaint
Advertising Standards Bureau
Who it covers: All ads broadcast on TV, in print, on billboards or online.
What it will consider: Complaints about advertisements that breach ASB guidelines. These can be submitted via an online form or by mail. The ASB site includes a list of complaints that are consistently dismissed which is worth checking to ensure you're not spending your time fruitlessly.
Website: ASB Complaints
Australian Communications & Media Authority
Who it covers: All broadcasters in Australia.
What it will consider: In most cases, ACMA will only consider complaints after you have already contacted the involved broadcaster. There are some exceptions, but it's important to ensure your complaints are in a format that complies with industry regulatory codes.
Website: Broadcasting complaints
Media, Entertainment And Arts Alliance
Who it covers: Journalists who are members of the MEAA, which is the journalists' union. While that potentially covers TV, radio, print and online, there's no guarantee that any individual journalist will be a member.
What it will consider: Complaints about members who have breached the MEAA Code of Ethics. You need to provide a written complaint detailing which specific elements have been breached.
Website: MEAA Code Of Ethics Breach
Know of a relevant body we've missed? Let us know in the comments and we'll add them.
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