Dating back to 1978, the annual Top Ten Chinese Gold Songs Award presentation has been an unlikely RTHK show that has aroused controversy. And the decision to have live broadcasts of racing was considered a contentious decision by the public broadcaster. For many years, Radio Television Hong Kong has had more than its fair share of controversy, including the posting of its former chief Cheung Man-yee overseas several years ago. Then there is the political satire programme Headliner, which was lambasted by veteran pro-Beijing figure Xu Simin as 'weird and [in] bad taste'. More recently, senior RTHK executives have been criticised by a judge for 'turning a blind eye' to abuses in tendering for production contracts. The criticism followed the conviction of a former staff member and two accomplices for conspiring to defraud RTHK of $740,000 by submitting false bids for production contracts. It was one of a handful of cases of illegal practices in the operation and management of RTHK that have come to light in the past few years. Concerns about RTHK programming were raised at a recent meeting of a Legislative Council panel. Lawmaker Albert Cheng King-hon has argued that the programming of the government-funded body should not replicate that of the commercial broadcasters. In response to members' concerns, RTHK plans to hold a public consultation this year on how it can better serve the community. Separately, the Director of Audit has ordered an investigation into the operations of RTHK in the wake of the latest corruption case. Unlike a few years ago, when RTHK found itself in hot water when then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa was engulfed in a governance crisis, the political pressure on the public broadcaster to be less harsh towards the government has seemingly eased off. The spate of illegal practices among staff in the past few years could be attributed to management problems. The latest controversy over some RTHK programmes stems from differences over the priority and focus of productions. Superficially, these differences have no direct bearing on important issues concerning the role and status of RTHK. The big question of whether RTHK should primarily act as a propaganda tool for government policies has not been prominently raised again in the wake of the negative publicity. Behind the scenes, however, RTHK is still surrounded by an air of fear and anxiety in the light of its vulnerability to political pressure. Speculation about possible moves by the administration to rein in RTHK has never ceased in the media and political circles since the handover. The imminent retirement of its top executives in the next two years has fostered a sense of uncertainty. A government decision to postpone indefinitely a plan for a new RTHK headquarters in Tseung Kwan O and its funding cuts in recent years have been interpreted by sceptics in Legco as a ploy to 'dry up' the public broadcaster. However well-intentioned and valid the concerns over RTHK's programmes on pop music and racing may sound, they have touched the sensitive nerve of possible changes in its direction and operations. The worst of times for RTHK after the handover may have long gone. But fears over government tinkering and political pressure run deep in RTHK and some quarters of society. Such an environment is far from conducive to the running of a public broadcaster. It has no choice but to live with it so long as its present status as part of the government bureaucracy remains unchanged. Being accountable to taxpayers, RTHK will have to strike a fine balance between serving the public interest and the public interest in its operations and programming. The bottom line for it and the community is that its independence in delivering services it deems in the interests of Hong Kong must not be compromised in the game of politics.