Building Strong Stations: Effective and Efficient Complaints Handling

Katrina Hughes, 19th December 2019

Community radio stations are community services – and should be safe places for all members of each community to come together. But sometimes situations crop up that challenge this social cohesion, and it’s how we handle these that can influence our station’s culture, people’s wellbeing and station ability to broadcast.

Community radio stations should also be safe and effective places for people to be able to make complaints – whether it’s a volunteer about something they’ve experienced at the station, a board member in regard to processes of the board, or a listener about something they’ve heard on air. Many complaints happen because station/management expectations haven’t been set out clearly, decisions have been poorly communicated, or information isn’t shared in a reasonable period of time.

Better complaints handling will:

  • Save your station time and resources;
  • Ensure you maintain a stellar reputation in your community;
  • Provide you with the knowledge to improve your station’s service;
  • Build better relationships within and outside the station; and
  • Empower your volunteers and staff to resolve issues fairly and efficiently.


Here are five tips for effective complaints handling.

1. Assess how you are currently handling complaints

The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC)’s Complaint Handling for Charities and Not-for-Profits policy template outlines that an effective complaint handling system must embrace the principles of fairness, accessibility, responsiveness, efficiency and be integrated into station culture.

2. Make your complaints processes transparent

Are your complaints policies and information easily accessible by volunteers, members, board members and staff? Is there accurate information about who people can turn to? Is this information on your website, easily understood, and discussable with the people responsible for handling complaints at the station?

Having the right information on your website, available at the station and easy to understand makes complainants feel more comfortable about making complaints and ensures station accountability.

3. Ensure your processes are objective and fair

Each complaint should be treated with integrity, and in an unbiased, objective and fair way.

It’s also important to be clear about who complaints can be directed to. This helps the complaint reach the right person, but also sets clear standards about objectivity and fairness.

It’s also important to ensure that any conflicts of interest (actual or perceived) are managed responsibly. Your complaints handling policy should outline who the complainant can turn to.

At most stations, many complaints would go to the Station Manager, President/Chair, or designated Complaints Officer – but what if the complaint is about that person? Make sure that the person handling the complaint is different from who the complaint is about, and that your policy outlines this. For example, your policy states that a complaint about the Station Manager should be directed to the Chair/President instead.

4. Resolve things early

While it’s important to document complaints, keep a log, and respond to them as per the Community Radio Broadcasting Codes of Practice (the Codes), what’s equally important, is resolving complaints early.

Wherever possible, it’s good to try and resolve complaints when first received – perhaps it’s as easy as making an apology or explaining a misunderstanding. If it can’t be resolved that easily, it’s still important to acknowledge that you received the complaint as soon as practically possible, with a rough timeframe for a full response.

While the Codes do allow 60 days for stations to formally investigate and respond to complaints, if you can resolve the complaint quicker, then great! If it’s going to take closer to 60 days, keep the complainant informed with open, transparent communication. And if something gets delayed – just let them know. Managing expectations throughout the process can help the complainant feel at ease and have trust in the process.

5. Learn to be accountable

Community radio stations must keep a log of complaints received as per the Codes. Not only does this help you meet your regulatory obligations, but you can also review these complaints to see if there are patterns about on-air content or a specific program, management or committee communication style, or anything else.

Analysing complaints will allow you to adapt and respond to your community’s changing needs to ensure you are continually delivering what is best suited.


Sometimes complaint handling doesn't quite go the way you had hoped for, and it escalates to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Receieved correspondence from the ACMA? Let us know! The CBAA are here to help – call our memner support team on 02 9310 2999.


This article was originally published in CBX, October 2019

Facebook comments



The CBAA, as the sector organisation representing the majority of community radio licensees, is responsible for coordinating the Community Radio Broadcasting Codes of Practice review. The review will continue in 2019.


The CBAA Complaints and Disputes Toolkit is an invaluable resource for community radio stations aiming to establish or refine a system for managing complaints and disputes efficiently and effectively. 


The largest pressure faced by community radio stations is financial. Stations constantly face the reality of how to ensure an adequate operating income in an increasingly competitive mediascape. Van Vuuren (2006c) argues that the extent of the contribution of community media to media democracy in Australia depends largely on how the sector manages commercial pressures. There is a need to ensure more financial stability to allow stations to focus on their primary community-orientated and participatory goals.