TVNZ employees' days of splurging on company plastic have ended, as the state broadcaster cuts up hundreds of credit cards to avoid "misleading" publicity.

Nearly everyone from celebrity presenters to senior executives will be affected.

Chief executive Rick Ellis has told staff that following a review of company practices, they will have their cards taken away.

TVNZ has hit the headlines in recent years for credit card spending.

More than 470 of its 900 or so staff have had cards, and in the six months to January this year - a time of cost cutting - they spent $3.18 million. Almost 100 of the cards had a monthly cap of at least $10,000.

Mr Ellis racked up more than $140,000 on his own company plastic in two years - including $32,000 entertaining.

He and senior executives will be among those losing their cards, and soon there will be as few as 50 left at TVNZ.

Staff will now have to apply to get work-related expenses reimbursed, though some field staff will retain their cards.

A TVNZ source was still unhappy with the chief executive over the decision. "It's a bad look, and a slap in the face for senior executives."

There were already tight controls in place, the source said.

Last year, belt-tightening required staff to cut back Friday-night drinks on their company cards to once a month.

Clothing and "grooming" allowances began to be audited, and staff had to start asking permission before entertaining people and taking non-story-related travel.

The workers who will keep their cards include some reporters and other field staff - particularly those who travel overseas.

TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards said the change would not affect what expenses staff could charge to the company.

The credit cards were being taken away because "misleading" and "unfair" media stories had latched on to the cards, tarnishing the company's reputation, she said.

"We've had absolutely no concerns about improper or reckless spending, contrary to popular opinion. We've had it under very tight controls," Ms Richards said.

"Unfortunately, we're going to take it on the chin. Obviously, it will be more inconvenient for people, but it's an unacceptable risk to have misleading reports damage our reputation."

The change to a paper-based reimbursement system would not remove any accountability on spending, she said.

"It won't change what you can and can't spend on or levels of accountability, but credit cards had become a lightning rod for criticism. It created an impression in the public's mind that there's something untoward happening at TVNZ."

This month has been marked as a "withdrawal" period, giving staff 30 days to wean themselves off the plastic.

Ms Richards said no credit card expenses had been paid for with taxpayer funding - the company was actually giving money to the public through dividends.

TVNZ would not name the staff who would lose their cards, saying it was a company-wide policy affecting a majority of workers "from top to bottom", including frontline presenters, and not all details had been finalised.

Mr Ellis declined to comment.