Now it's up to RTHK to fulfil its public service duty

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 December, 2010, 12:00am

The government has ended years of uncertainty over RTHK's future by pledging more money and resources to expand its services. Now, the company's senior management and staff must live up to their end of the bargain to make sure RTHK is run like a genuine public broadcaster.

In fact, the government's pledge has gone beyond many employees' expectations as they had assumed funding would never be granted to build new headquarters. On top of that, it has also resumed the hiring of civil servants to fill 80 posts, allowing many long-time contract staff to become civil servants through internal promotion. Promoting job stability will certainly boost staff morale.

The government's support will increase overall resources to enhance manpower, quality of services and facilities. The government has allocated a 30,000 square metre site in Tseung Kwan O to build a new Broadcasting House - the size of which is double that of the original proposed site.

Extra funds will also be earmarked for additional equipment and facilities to launch digital audio broadcasting and digital TV services in the near future.

Furthermore, starting from next year, the station will increase the production of high-definition television programmes from about 50 hours to at least 200 hours a year. It will also focus on establishing a digital TV transmission network with the possibility of renting hilltop transmission sites from the two free-to-air TV broadcasters, purchasing the necessary equipment and conducting technical trials in the next few years.

The sum of HK$45 million will be allocated for a three-year trial under a proposed Community Broadcasting Involvement Fund, which will subsidise groups to produce programmes.

In the coming five years, the government will set aside resources to establish a media asset management system to preserve the cultural heritage of Hong Kong's public broadcasting and make it available for use by the public and the industry. This system will help preserve RTHK's more than 80 years of audio records and some 30 years of TV productions.

Apart from the 80 civil service posts, there will be two additional senior positions; a controller to look after broadcasting services and a deputy director of broadcasting. Both will be responsible for the station's planning and the development of digital broadcasting services and the new broadcasting house in Tseung Kwan O.

Some fear the extra resources invested in RTHK will pose a threat to other commercial entities. I am optimistic that it will benefit the long-term development of RTHK and help it become a true public service broadcaster.

But, instead of embracing these positive changes and focusing their efforts on working towards a better future for the station, staff remain unsatisfied. Janet Mak Lai-ching, chairwoman of the RTHK Programme Staff Union, complained that filling the 80 civil service posts would not meet the demands of new services. She said the positions are insufficient to accommodate the existing 200 contract staff, which will lead to the loss of experienced people.

It appears that they will never be satisfied unless the government allows them to continue to run RTHK as an 'independent empire'. Objectively speaking, the 80 civil service positions will undoubtedly give staff a better sense of belonging and boost morale. Moreover, this is just the first wave of changes; there will definitely be more investment.

RTHK receives HK$500 million public funding per year and, with the additional services and facilities, the amount is expected to rise over the years. It must deliver its public service mission and return value for this huge public investment.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk

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