We should be under no illusions. National's broadcasting policy is to remove TVNZ's charter obligations but to retain TVNZ in public ownership. This makes no sense.
If a public asset is not to be used for public purposes, if TVNZ is to become just a commercial broadcaster, then there is no point in the asset remaining in public ownership. National may continue to deny that there is any plan to sell TVNZ, but this is simply disingenuous.
But National is right to draw attention to the failings of the charter arrangements. Labour introduced the TVNZ charter in 2003 to clarify TVNZ's mission as a public broadcaster and to specify certain types of programmes it wished to see on TVNZ.
The Government provided $15 million annually of public funding to TVNZ for programmes that it would not have funded in a wholly commercial environment.
Regrettably, TVNZ has blown a golden opportunity to use this money for a range of prestige programmes that would not otherwise have screened and that could have been defended as laudable examples of the charter at work.
It is true that there are some such examples from several years ago - blue-chip documentaries such as portraits of David Lange or Michael King in the Festival New Zealand series, programmes exploring our history such as Revealing Gallipoli or the series Frontier of Dreams. Or arts programmes like Artsville and Front Seat and discussion programmes such as Eye to Eye or Agenda.
But there are too few such examples in the four years under the charter. Instead, there are extraordinary decisions to fund such popular programmes as Sensing Murder, Mucking In or Country Calendar.
Could TVNZ really argue that such programmes would not be made without charter funding? Many of them were already in the schedule. To say nothing of the decision to fund the Sunday programme to the tune of $2.7 million, a decision that smacked of a bail-out of a cash-strapped news and current affairs department.
Finally there was the decision to spend $5 million - about a third of the annual charter funding - on the production costs of the Beijing Olympics. Surely it should have been obvious that not only could this not be justified, it would be a red rag to the political bull now in charge, Broadcasting Minister Trevor Mallard, already fuming over the Sunday decision.
Mallard has reacted by proposing to give the charter funding to NZ On Air to administer - it will still be money destined for TVNZ, but TVNZ will no longer be able to make arbitrary decisions about what to spend it on. It will have to submit applications to NZ On Air and argue each case. It has only itself to blame for this considerable loss of autonomy.
Doing away with the charter, National is on a different path. It would also remove the charter funding from TVNZ, but give it to NZ On Air, effectively increasing the contestable fund from $70 million to $85 million annually.
The problem with this approach is that we have been here before. It takes us back to the late nineties when, under a National Government, TVNZ was being prepared for sale and therefore driven essentially by commercial imperatives.
With no charter in place and no requirements on what programmes should be screened, TVNZ was able to reject programme ideas it did not see as commercially beneficial. At one time in this period it declared it wanted no more documentaries. It could equally have said no more New Zealand drama, or comedy or Maori programmes or children's programmes - all categories of programming that do not maximise commercial potential.
NZ On Air operates a very efficient system for the distribution of public funding, but the major weakness in the system is that it cannot compel broadcasters to take programmes it may see as desirable, let alone dictate when a programme should be screened. The broadcasters are the gatekeepers with the final say.
Labour introduced the charter precisely to deal with this problem, to require TVNZ to meet programming requirements and thus to work more effectively with NZ On Air to deliver on the objectives of public broadcasting - specifically the screening of the less commercial areas of programming. For public broadcasting to work in New Zealand in any meaningful sense, we need both NZ On Air and a charter for the public broadcaster - both elements are vital.
So the most significant aspect of National's policy is not the handing of the charter money to NZ On Air, it is the abandoning of the charter. Without the charter, the problems of the nineties will simply be revisited.
The charter has not been working as well as it should have, but the answer is to address the problem not to abandon the concept altogether.
The only logical conclusion of National's policy is that TVNZ will be sold off to the highest bidder, the likes of a Rupert Murdoch (the largest shareholder in Sky) or Tony O'Reilly (who has interests in the Herald and The Radio Network).
Then we would see what behaving commercially really means - fewer New Zealand programmes, fewer minority programmes and less news and current affairs for a start. More cheap imported reality shows.
We would have notched up another broadcasting first - as the only country in the Western world to sell its major television public broadcaster.
* Paul Norris is the head of the Broadcasting School at Christchurch Polytechnic. He is engaged on a research report for NZ On Air on public broadcasting and the digital future.By Paul Norris