RTHK hears victory cry

Hong Kong pubcaster to be strengthened, not sidelined

HONG KONG -- Public service broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong will remain a government department, secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Rita Lau announced on Tuesday, in an apparent about-face for the government. 
 
The broadcaster will expand its digital radio broadcasting service and launch a digital television channel for its original programs, overseas co-productions, international radio and television programs and relay programs from China. The government has also allocated a piece of land in Tseung Kwan O to build a new Broadcasting House.
 
The broadcaster, in operation for 81 years, has \regularly been rated as having the highest credibility of any media organization in Hong Kong.
 
Despite its good standing with the public, the organization's future and status have been in question for much of the past three years, since the government launched a review of public service broadcasting began in 2007. 
 
RTHK has come under fire for being old-fashioned and so entrenched in its ways that it might be impossible to reform. Pro-Beijing critics asked why RTHK should be a government department and be state-funded, but not act like a pure propaganda unit. Meanwhile a series of petty scandals concerning personnel and expenses gave the organization's enemies still more ammunition.
 
The territory's chief executive Donald Tsang at one stage publicly mooted the idea of setting up another public broadcaster that would take over many of RTHK's duties but would not be run by civil servants.
 
Now it seems not only that RTHK will survive, but also that its editorial independence from government will be preserved and protected. Lau and Franklin Wong, the editor-in-chief of RTHK, emphasized that editorial freedom will remain the priority for the new RTHK.
 
The government's chief secretary for administration will issue a charter outlining the relationship between the government and the new RTHK. A board of advisors, to be appointed by Tsang, will consult on corporate governance, programming direction, transparency and accountability of the broadcaster, but the board will not interfere with its day-to-day operation, Wong said.

"Many of us would want to see RTHK continue to take on the role of public service broadcaster, and provide better services with higher standards of operation. The way forward points exactly to this destination," chief executive Tsang said
 
The government said it will provide sufficient financial, staffing and spectrum resources to RTHK and that it will recruit civil servants to fill vacancies. The organization's 300 existing contract staff will have to go through the civil service recruitment process.
 
A Community Broadcasting Involvement Fund will be set up under RTHK to provide financial support for community groups to participate in broadcasting and content production, in order to provide a platform for community participation in broadcasting by non-governmental organizations.
 
According to a recent government survey, 60% of Hong Kong respondents considered that RTHK should remain as it is or be strengthened, while only 20% supported the establishment of a replacement organization.
 
A two-month public consultation will be launched soon, and a consultation paper will be submitted to the Legislative Council on October 5.
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