Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has announced plans to expand RNZ into a non-commercial television service, as well as digital and radio, saying New Zealand needs something akin to Britain's BBC and the ABC in Australia.

Ardern set out funding of $38 million which would be administered by an independent body headed by a Public Media Funding Commissioner to ensure it was not subject to political interference.

The commissioner would also allocate funding to other outlets for important investigative journalism projects.

"We recognise that a strong, informed democracy needs a strong, independent free public media service," she said.


"Public media, backed with sustainable funding, is essential to ensuring all New Zealanders are engaged and heard. However a commercial market cannot deliver all of this."

Labour would not sell TVNZ, which operates on a commercial model.

"RNZ has consistently provided an incredibly valuable service to New Zealanders, despite a nine-year funding freeze from the Government at a time of massive change to the media sector, Labour will build on RNZ's solid foundation and transform it into something closer to Australia's ABC."

This year's Budget delivered a funding injection of $11.4 million over four years to RNZ - but until then it had been on a funding freeze since 2008.

Dr Peter Thompson of the Coalition for Better Broadcasting said it was vital public media services such as in-depth news and current affairs was well funded - and RNZ and NZ on Air would benefit.

He was also pleased Labour did not seem to be advocating a return to the TVNZ Charter which he said gave it a confusing mix of both commercial and public service functions.

"Public service is already in RNZ's DNA and it is already developing a multi-platform presence."

He was also pleased with the decision to set up an independent Public Media Funding Commission to decide on the use of the funds.

"The new Public Media Funding Commission will help insulate public service media funding from both commercial and political pressure, and ensure that a full range of local content - including in-depth news and children's programming - is made available to everyone. It will also help minimise political disputes over the adequacy of funding for RNZ, which has been chronically under-funded since 2007."

Although NZ on Air already provided funding for New Zealand documentaries and news, Ardern said it was still at the whim of the commercially operated broadcasters to decide when and whether to broadcast those programmes.

Ardern made the announcement at the Auckland Film Studios in Henderson, in the shed that was used as a film set for programmes such as Xena.

She said Labour would retain incentives in the sector to attract international projects, but would review those to ensure they remained internationally competitive while also providing employment for locals.

She said Labour wanted a long-term film industry strategy to better manage the "boom-bust" cycle and ensure film related businesses could survive through periods of low activity.

That included working with Auckland Council to ensure the delivery of studio infrastructure and re-establishing an employment scheme for the industry.