Skip to main content

Non-commercial radio broadcasting licences

This page outlines the terms of conditions for regional and community radio broadcasting licences, and the process for applying for one.

The policy behind the allocation of radio licences is the Government’s Regional and Community Broadcasting Policy Framework.

In the post-digital switchover environment, a television license is not required as broadcasters would generally utilise spare capacity on an existing licensee's multiplex.

Details about the Ministry's enforcement and prosecution policy for the Broadcasting Act 1989 is available on our legislation page.

Regional and Community Broadcasting Policy Framework (2019)

Our legislation

Application process

New non-commercial radio frequencies only rarely become available but when a frequency or network of frequencies has become available and identified as non-commercial:

  • The frequency or frequencies will be advertised through a public notice and individuals or organisations on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage database of interested persons will be advised.
  • An on-line application form will be made available on this website.
  • After the closing date all applications will be considered by a panel of four, including a representative of NZ On Air and an independent assessor.
  • Applications will be assessed according to the criteria outlined below.
  • The frequency or frequencies will be awarded to the applicant who best meets the criteria. All unsuccessful applicants will be advised of the outcome.

Conditions and criteria

  • ‘Non-commercial’ licences will only be issued to operators of radio stations that:
  • show a strong geographic, social demographic or community of interest connection with the target audience, with programming focused on the needs and interests of the audiences they serve
  • locate the offices and studios of the station within the coverage area.

If the station is part of a network, it will need to meet the other requirements of a non-commercial licence to qualify (see ‘Eligibility’ below).

Only in special circumstances would an applicant for a non-commercial radio broadcast frequency be allowed to hold the licence rights to another frequency in the same location, which could be used for the purpose.

If there is any doubt around the interpretation of the terms and conditions below, the decision of the Chief Executive of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage will be final.


Meeting community needs.

The broadcaster must be able to show that the broadcasts fulfill a priority community need or needs, as defined in the Regional and Community Broadcasting Policy Framework, and don’t duplicate existing formats available in the region.

This means that the format the broadcaster is offering isn’t operated by other stations on a ‘for profit’ basis, but increases the diversity of programme choice for listeners by complementing and providing alternative services to those offered by existing broadcasters.

The broadcaster must be able to show that the broadcast operation provides access for local and regional programme makers to the airwaves, and/or for relevant stakeholders.

Entity type and management

The broadcaster must be a company or an incorporated society or charitable trust or other entity, any of which must be operated on a charitable or 'not-for-profit' basis.  Members of the governing body may not directly profit from the enterprise.

Staff may not be paid any more than the industry standard for work of a similar nature, and the broadcast operation is not to be mainly used to raise funds for charity.

The broadcaster must be able to show that it has the technical and financial capacity to fulfill the broadcasting outcomes in the proposal.


The broadcaster must be able to confirm it has a fundraising mechanism that allows it to function with no more than six minutes of commercials per clock hour, and no more than 50% of revenue derived from advertising. Other income may include sponsorship.

The broadcaster should also be able to demonstrate an understanding of the future broadcasting environment of the local community, including possible multi-media applications and the impact of the future transition of radio services to digital transmission.


All non-commercial radio licences will be subject to a licence agreement between the broadcaster, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment. Conditions will include but may not be limited to those stated below.

The broadcaster’s office and studio need to be located in the area within the licence coverage. The service must run for at least 12 hours a day, unless negotiated otherwise.


The service should feature locally generated programming designed to attract a wide range of audiences in the coverage area, with a focus on previously unmet needs and interests of listeners.

It must include some or all of the following content broadcast from within the coverage area:

  • local news, information, stories and history
  • discussion of community issues, including political processes
  • programming aimed to inform, entertain and involve a specified or under-served local community or communities of interest.

Where possible, the broadcaster should have established and maintained working relationships with significant groups within the local community, such as territorial and regional government, emergency management, iwi and runanga, educational institutions, youth and community groups, and organisations for the disabled. The broadcaster is expected to facilitate the provision of relevant content from these types of groups.


The broadcaster must be able to show that its broadcast operations have sufficient accountability mechanisms to ensure that it delivers on its undertakings to provide services.  These arrangements may include:

  • Mechanisms for equitable allocation of air time among all interested users
  • Systems for ensuring efficient management of services
  • Provision of satisfactory services to the full variety of audience to be catered for
  • Mechanisms for ensuring compliance by all users on the frequency with broadcasting standards.

The broadcaster must agree to a compliance audit being done at any time.

Dealing with complaints

The broadcaster must respond in writing to individual complaints relating to the terms of the licence agreement, within 21 days. For example, matters relating to airtime allocations and community involvement rather than formal complaints processes involving the Broadcasting Standards Authority or the Advertising Standards Authority.

Copies of the complaint and response need to be given to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. The Chief Executive of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage may investigate further, including a compliance audit, if necessary. 

Licence renewals

All applications for renewals of a radio broadcast licence must be accompanied by enough evidence to verify that non-commercial licence agreement conditions have been met.  Broadcasters also need to provide the Chief Executive of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage with a compliance report showing that licence conditions are being adhered to.

This is to include relevant financial and ownership information, and a full list of shareholders, directors, board members and/or trustees, as appropriate. Broadcasters need to submit the report at least three months before each anniversary of the granting of the licence.  

Unless the period is specifically extended by the Ministry, licensees must begin radio services within one year of being allocated a frequency, and must maintain services or face having their licence revoked, without refund of any relevant fees.

Legislative requirements

All licensees must comply with the requirements of the Broadcasting Act and Broadcasting Standards Authority regarding station identification, codes of broadcasting practice and complaints procedures.

All radio broadcast licences are subject to the provisions of the Radiocommunications Act 1989 and the Radiocommunications Regulations 2001.  Where a compliance issue can’t be referenced directly to the Act or Regulations, these terms and conditions will apply. In all cases, the decision of the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment will be final.


Licensees may not transfer, modify, lease or share the frequency, or otherwise surrender control of transmissions on the licence, without permission in writing from the Chief Executive of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.  

When an agreement has been reached with the Ministry that allows an entity other than the original licence holder to operate the licence, the original licence holder may still be required to maintain responsibility for the conduct and programming of the station to ensure adherence to the purposes and licence agreement for which the licence was issued in the first place.

The penalties for failure to comply will be the same whoever is operating the frequency. If the infringement continues the license may be revoked 30 days after the original licence holder has been informed and fails to remedy the situation.

The Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment will retain the right to modify, transfer or revoke the licence in terms of the Radiocommunications Act 1989.

The licensee may voluntarily relinquish the licence to the Crown if it is no longer able to meet the eligibility and operational criteria.


If found to be non-compliant, the licensee will be served with a written notice by the Chief Executive of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, with a requirement to be compliant within a specified period.

For continuing non-compliance a licence may be revoked by the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment without financial compensation, and future licence applications from the same or any associated applicant refused.

Find out more

To find out more contact:

Arts & Media Policy, Policy & Sector Perfomance Group, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, PO Box 5364, Wellington 6140

Related webpages

List of Non-commercial broadcasters

Regional and community broadcasting policy framework 2019

Terms and Conditions for Local FM Radio Broadcasting Licences


Updated on 17th July 2019