With a cloud hanging over its future, RTHK has been badly hit by the imminent departure of its head, Chu Pui-hing. Mr Chu, who turns 60 - the official retirement age - next year, is seeking an early exit after photographs of him hiding behind a karaoke hostess were splashed across most newspapers. His application is being processed, but a change at the helm of the government-run broadcaster seems inevitable. That could not have come at a worse time for RTHK. Staff and their supporters are bracing for a tough battle over their future after a government-appointed panel reviewing public service broadcasting delivered its findings. While it affirmed the need for an independent public service broadcaster, the panel, chaired by veteran journalist Raymond Roy Wong, reported that RTHK should not be turned into the new broadcaster, citing factors such as its entrenched structure and culture and insurmountable problems. The review was initiated by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen two years ago. A vocal minority in society oppose the way the government-run broadcaster functions. Pro-Beijing figures have lambasted RTHK for failing to propagate government policies. Worse, it is accused of having allowed government-bashers air time to spread their message. Headline-grabbing cases of malpractice and violations of civil service rules by executives and staff have given critics ammunition to pressurise the government to rein in the broadcaster. Against that background, it is clear Mr Tsang is bent on ending the protracted row and finding a role for RTHK. This would still have been on his agenda even without the drama involving Mr Chu. The battle lines drawn up since the report was released demonstrate the political sensitivity and complexity of the issue. Efforts by the panel to draw public attention to the fundamentals of public service broadcasting, such as structure, financing and governance, are no doubt well-intentioned and thoughtful. But, like it or not, the debate has long been defined within and outside the government as a question about control over RTHK. It is hardly surprising there has been scant attention and discussion in society about the fundamental aspects of public service broadcasting as set out in the panel report. Instead, it is being boiled down to the question of the fate of RTHK. Campaign slogans such as 'save RTHK' and 'support RTHK' tell the story. Even if Mr Chu stays in the post until his retirement, his role and influence in deciding the fate of RTHK will arguably be limited. The immediate impact is this: the government may take advantage of a leadership vacuum to install a high-ranking administrative officer to head RTHK. The staff union has urged the government not to appoint another administrative officer to the top management. Given the fact the government has already filled the deputy's post with a senior official after rejecting a staff request for an internal successor last year, it is highly unlikely the Tsang administration will heed the union's latest demand. In view of the forthcoming battle over the fate of RTHK, Mr Tsang would be acting out of character by appearing to be soft in handling a senior appointment in the face of pressure from outside. The Chu incident, meanwhile, will be a godsend for long-time RTHK-bashers to launch fresh attacks on the broadcaster's management deficiencies. But the negative impact on the image of RTHK should be short-term. Mr Chu has expressed a wish for the controversy over his departure to end as soon as he steps down. There are no indications his case will deal a body blow to the 'save RTHK' campaign. If anything, his unexpected early departure could serve as a symbolic reminder to RTHK staff and supporters that they can now only count on themselves to fight for editorial independence.