The chief executive has rightly called the free flow of information a pillar of our city's success. For that we have to thank in large part a free and robust media, including a public broadcaster. As a watchdog on the values of an open society with the rule of law, it helps keep the government honest and on its toes. Public broadcasters remain an asset deeply valued for editorial independence, political balance, cultural diversity and access for a broad range of views. But even in places where their contribution to civil society and public discourse is valued, public broadcasters come in for fierce criticism. It is usually levelled at them from some sections of the government of the day. This has been the case with the BBC in Britain and ABC in Australia. But it does not detract from the reality that public broadcasters have an important role to play. This is why it is a matter of concern that the future of RTHK remains uncertain. For more than three years it has operated under the cloud of a report by an independent review panel that recommended the establishment of a new public broadcaster, without spelling out a role for RTHK, a government department. The government continues to put off setting a date for a consultation on the future of public broadcasting to avoid political controversy while it focuses on other issues such as the economy. It has merely promised one as soon as possible - but there is no timetable. As a result, RTHK staff staged a public protest this week at what they called an attempt by the government to 'dry up' RTHK's development. Lawmakers have questioned the government's intentions. Meanwhile, there is a view in pro-Beijing circles that RTHK, being government-funded, should only broadcast government information, or propaganda. This overlooks the fact that the government already spends a lot of public money on information services and has access to a wide range of media to get its message across. It does not need RTHK to play the same role. There is an urgent need for RTHK's future to be clarified. It should not be forgotten who pays for RTHK. It is taxpayers' money that funds the broadcaster; it belongs to the people. The public, therefore, should be asked for their views. A public consultation is more likely than not to show support for reform of RTHK, so that it can fill the role of a strong, more independent public broadcaster. But we will only know that for sure once the consultation has been held. Whatever reforms are made to public broadcasting, they must uphold the highest standards of journalistic integrity and independence. It is understandable that the review panel was concerned to see that a new public broadcaster would not be burdened with RTHK's civil-service work culture and standards of pay at senior levels. But this discounts the value of RTHK's commitment in the past to unbiased, but critical, journalism. This should not be sacrificed lightly for a new structure with no tradition of robust independence. The uncertainty over RTHK's future and internal problems over financial controls have done nothing for its reputation or staff morale. The uncertainty also threatens the vital role the broadcaster - an institution that has served Hong Kong for 80 years - plays in contributing to our open society. The government should move to end the doubts sooner rather than later by setting a date for the consultation and letting the public have its say on the best way forward.