A former head of TVNZ has warned the BBC not to copy New Zealand's television funding system.

The British Government is looking at dropping the BBC TV licence which pays to make its programmes. One option is an NZ on Air system, which gives money to an independent agency instead.

But former TVNZ chief executive Julian Mounter - an Englishman brought here in the 1980s to shift state television to a business model - has warned his countrymen in a letter to the Times that the New Zealand method leads to a decline in public broadcasting.

"NZ on Air chose to spend the money, in part, on what I considered to be pure public service programming ... however it also spent it on what I considered to be commercial programming, that which would be easily funded by advertising or sponsorship," he wrote.


"As a result it became much more difficult for us to make sufficient non-commercial programmes, which I believed were an essential ingredient for any national broadcaster to provide."

Mr Mounter said changing the BBC's funding "will be a highly dangerous step".

"Before taking such a decision policy-makers should study the experience of New Zealand carefully.

"Some think the change has worked well, I think it is a flawed system."

Herald media commentator John Drinnan said TVNZ, in Mr Mounter's day, provided educational programmes and sports, and catered for minority audiences.

"Mounter sums up the view of many TV programme makers that the set-up he created had some benefits, but in the end it becomes television to suit advertisers and not viewers," Drinnan said.

"It has taken a while to run down, and it is gradual. Nowadays the Government gets TV companies to make shows that deliver bigger audiences.

"It is why Sky TV has grown so big in this country."