They are miles apart in location and scale, but Radio Television Hong Kong has two things in common with broadcasting giant the British Broadcasting Corporation. Both organisations are in their 80s, and both are undergoing reforms that could deliver radical changes to the institutions. Cloaked as a review of public service broadcasting, the Hong Kong inquiry launched in January aimed to be a 'fundamental and critical review of public service broadcasting in Hong Kong', in which RTHK plays a core role. It is no surprise that since the process began three months ago, the role of RTHK has dominated debate, while talks on the overall public service broadcast provision are almost invisible. The seven-member committee headed by veteran broadcast journalist Raymond Roy Wong has yet to show its cards, but RTHK management and a considerable number of its staff have expressed support for the idea of corporatisation of the broadcaster. They argue that a funding mechanism - modelled on the BBC's licence fee scheme - is worth considering, as it would save RTHK from government intervention and maintain editorial independence. On the other side of the world, the BBC is one step ahead as it tackles the questions of the corporation's role in society and its influence during the digital switchover and fast-paced technological development. The British review sets forth six public purposes for the BBC: sustaining citizenship and civil society; promoting education and learning; stimulating creativity and cultural excellence - including film; reflecting Britain's nations, regions and communities; bringing the world to the UK and the UK to the world; and building a digital Britain. More importantly, the review takes to task the questions of the BBC's corporate governance, underpinned by the principle of accountability of the BBC as a public-funded body. Under the new Royal Charter which will be finalised later this year, the existing board of governors of the BBC will be replaced by two new bodies, namely the BBC Trust and the Executive Board. The trust, whose members are to be appointed on the advice of the government, will be 'the sovereign body' within the BBC. 'What this means in practice is that the trust's word is final,' said the white paper titled 'A public service for all: the BBC in the digital age', presented to parliament last month by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Tessa Jowell. 'Although the trust embodies the public interest, in most cases the executive will be best placed to address stakeholders' concerns in the first instance,' said Ms Jowell. In an effort to better manage each individual service, the trust also presides over the issuing and periodic review of the so-called 'service licence' to the executive. Each licence will set out the aims and objectives of a service provided by BBC, down to the details of its composition 'which might describe expected amounts and scheduling of different types of programming'. A service licence for BBC Radio 1, for instance, may include the amount of news and current affairs, the amount of British music and the amount of new and specialist music with an overall scheduling strategy. In future, any new services or 'significant changes' to existing services will be vetted by the trust using a public value test assessment which covers, among other things, the value that Britain's licence fee payers would place on the service and the service's contribution to the BBC's public purposes and priorities. The test will also weigh such services against yet another test, the market impact assessment, to determine whether to risk stifling a new market. The power to conduct the test rests with Britain's statutory media watchdog, the Office of Communications. The final veto power lies with the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, who could withhold agreement to the new services or alteration of existing ones if the trust had not followed the approval process. The shift of the ultimate power of management to the trust is billed as a significant move to 'strengthen the BBC's independence from government' and aims to create a new line of accountability - from the trust directly to the licence fee payers. For its established, independent practice, the BBC is unfazed by the new institutional structure. In a speech delivered two weeks ago, BBC chairman Michael Grade described the setting up of the trust as a solution to one of the deadly sins of the BBC: a lack of accountability. Speaking in an earlier interview, Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC's Global News Division, also welcomed the move as introducing 'good management, good governance' to the BBC. 'Every public service provider has to be held accountable,' he said, noting the massive funding from the public. Referring to the level of scrutiny, Mr Sambrook said: 'It is a price paid for the very large amount of public and secure funding.' The funding from the public amounted to GBP2.9 billion ($40.2 billion) in 2004, thanks to a TV licence fee scheme which taxes GBP126.50 on every household with a colour TV. Asked if he thought the change would undermine the editorial independence of the BBC, Mr Sambrook replied: 'I don't think it will.' He highlighted as another key point the size of the licence fee. The BBC would like to secure an increase of the fees to 2.3 per cent on top of the inflationary adjustment, a call dismissed by unnamed Whitehall officials as 'unrealistic'. The review of the BBC comes as a timely reminder to RTHK that there are issues beyond securing a steady source of funding. In Hong Kong, these can be equally, if not more, politically sensitive for the public broadcaster. No one needs to be reminded of the controversy stirred by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's remarks, made during his election campaign last year, that RTHK should not run horse-racing programmes and the annual Top Ten Gold Songs Award, which it held for the 28th time in January. Mr Tsang's predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa, has been quoted by a veteran adviser to Beijing, Xu Simin, as saying that he would tackle RTHK 'slowly, slowly'. Unsettling as they may sound, the remarks by the two chief executives struck more as a wake-up call to the public broadcaster that times have changed and the government, of which it is a part, has joined the ranks of its critics. In addition, the pro-Beijing figures highly critical of RTHK's failure to propagate, promote and defend government policies will continue to be a vocal force. Against such context, any further discussion on the management of RTHK will certainly provide fireworks. In a survey commissioned by RTHK in February and March, Lingnan University found that 61 per cent of the 298 production staff polled considered the BBC model of operation worthy of adopting. However, when asked if RTHK should cease being part of the government, 32 per cent disagreed and 23 per cent adopted a wait-and-see attitude, compared with 45 per cent who agreed. By simple arithmetic, with a contribution of $300 each a year, the 2.3 million households in Hong Kong can pool together $700 million to finance the public broadcaster - covering the operating costs of $430 million plus the bill for the plush perks enjoyed by staff on civil service terms. The amount is not at all big. But are we really ready for the discussion?