Critics say the decision, taken in May, could signal broad changes at the government-funded station There will be no live horse racing on RTHK next season, a change seen as signalling a major shake-up of the government-controlled broadcaster. Yesterday's announcement by Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology John Tsang Chun-wah aroused concerns in some quarters because he revealed the decision to pull the plug on racing programmes had been taken in May, after he met the director of broadcasting. RTHK staff say they were kept in the dark, with the broadcaster's management repeatedly saying a decision had yet to be made. Questions have also been raised over the role of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in the decision, given that he expressed displeasure with racing broadcasts during the election campaign last month. John Tsang said the government believed RTHK should use its resources to make high-quality programmes and avoid competing with commercial organisations. 'Over the one to two years since I took up the post, I've constantly been in discussion with the director of broadcasting to discuss how to implement this policy. We've discussed it for a long time,' he said. 'As regards horse racing, actually we already reached a consensus in May that RTHK will stop live broadcast of horse racing this year ... at this stage we're examining how to implement this policy.' Speculation over RTHK's racing coverage arose following the chief executive's criticism. RTHK repeatedly said over the past few weeks that it had not been decided whether the broadcasts would continue. As late as June 29, it said a decision would be made in two weeks' time. Yesterday an RTHK spokesman said managers had, at the end of April, drafted a timetable for implementing the decision. 'In order to avoid operating chaos, an announcement was planned for after the end of the race season,' he said. But with public concern aroused by Donald Tsang's comments, 'the RTHK has carried out further discussion on the implementation of this decision, and plans to explain it at Legco's panel on information, technology and broadcasting on Monday', the spokesman said. Janet Mak Lai-ching, chairwoman of the RTHK Programme Staff Union, expressed regret over the lack of transparency and consultation over the move. She criticised the decision, saying it had compromised the broadcaster's editorial independence. 'It has infringed RTHK's agreement with the government,' Ms Mak said. 'Whether a programme should be broadcast and whether it shouldn't is related to RTHK's editorial independence.' Racing commentator Ma Yun-chi, who has been with the racing programme for 14 years, said: 'They're disrespectful of us. They should explain to us what kind of consensus they've reached with the government.' He also said it was a prelude to a revamp of RTHK during Mr Tsang's reign. 'Whenever RTHK has cancelled or rescheduled a programme before, it has never needed a bureau head to reach a consensus with the director of broadcasting,' he said. RTHK pays the Jockey Club $750,000 a year for the rights to broadcast racing live. Commercial Radio also broadcasts during the same time slot, but won't say how much it pays. Jockey Club chairman Ronald Arculli, meanwhile, said on an RTHK television programme before the announcement that he hoped RTHK's live broadcast would not end immediately, to allow time to adapt to the change. 'Maybe we can discuss with other radio stations or review whether the Jockey Club can operate its own radio - it needs one to two years' preparation,' he said. Ying Chan, director of the Journalism and Media Centre at the University of Hong Kong, called for the corporatisation of RTHK and suggested that RTHK staff be detached from the civil service.