Commission makes case for swift change

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2006, 12:00am

Its conclusions may be far short of a scandal, but the Audit Commission's report on RTHK is a slap in the face for its managers - accused of poor corporate governance at best, and at worst, of a lack of discipline and professionalism.

At a time when RTHK's role and function are the subject of a major government-ordered review, the auditor's report makes the case for change more urgent. Maintaining the status quo is neither desirable nor viable.

Now that the Pandora's box is open, both the government and RTHK are approaching with caution and sensitivity the challenges arising from the separate, but related, exercises.

Yesterday the minister in charge of broadcasting, Joseph Wong Wing-ping, was at pains to state that the audit was purely about better management, not editorial independence. That he felt the need to say so was because the timing of the report has given rise to fears it is part of a plan by Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to rein in the public broadcaster.

For its part, RTHK's management is aware of the importance of being receptive to the auditor's criticism, even though it will further embarrass the broadcaster, whose image has been tarnished by a spate of malpractice cases.

Senior executives may have a point in saying some of the management problems arise from the conflict between RTHK's status as a government department and its role as a media organisation. But this defence looks vulnerable given that the culture of accountability has taken root in society.

For as long as RTHK remains a government department, it will face pressure to find a better balance between complying with government regulations and operating flexibly under market rules.

Mindful of the political sensitivity of the issue, both the government and RTHK's management stressed the importance of handling the audit findings professionally and pragmatically.

But Mr Tsang wants RTHK sorted out once and for all. The government's order to its managers to respond to the audit within three months is a sign RTHK faces fundamental change.