RTHK has a long history of service to Hong Kong, clouded until recently by uncertainty about its future as a public service broadcaster. Now that has been settled, the stage is set for it to develop the role it has played in contributing to an open society. With the government's assurance of more resources, a new-look RTHK will enter the digital era with radio and television channels, new headquarters and more funding for local productions and programmes from the mainland and overseas. Concerns remain, however, about editorial independence, which is key to serving the needs of the community. They have lingered since the government clarified RTHK's position. Now they have been reinforced by a draft charter for the broadcaster released last week that has deepened conflict between programme staff and the government. The draft says RTHK is editorially independent, and that impartiality is its core value and guiding principle. The question is whether it is seen to be independent. The draft fails that test. There is no question that a publicly funded broadcaster has to be accountable - to the taxpayers who fund it, not political masters. But the draft charter provides for a board - to be appointed by the chief executive - to advise the head of RTHK on editorial principles, and for the head of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau to give guidance in defining programme areas. These provisions are not easily reconciled with editorial independence. Members of RTHK's programming staff overwhelmingly oppose the advisory board because of fears it would interfere with their independence. The government says a survey of 1,003 people by its Central Policy Unit showed that nearly 70 per cent agreed the charter could safeguard editorial independence. The issue is whether it actually will do so. The fact that half were neutral about RTHK's future editorial independence, or pessimistic, may be more revealing. A government official says the advisory board would be similar to advisory panels on public service broadcasting in Britain, the US and Canada. A glance at the BBC's website raises questions about the comparison. The BBC has a governing body of 12 trustees charged with safeguarding its independence, making sure it listens to the public and getting the best value for money. The way in which they are appointed inspires more confidence in independence than our government's proposals. Under the regulation of an independent commissioner for public appointments, positions are advertised, applicants short-listed and interviewed by a panel including a senior civil servant, an independent assessor and the chairman of the BBC, and appointments recommended to the government on merit. This transparent process has been adopted to help safeguard a worldwide reputation for trustworthy and independent news gathering and programme-making. Surveys in Hong Kong have consistently shown that RTHK, too, is held in high regard. Its programming has suffered a slide in quality. More resources will help reverse this trend. But editorial independence remains instrumental in making quality programmes. It is not a given to be simply placed on the record in the charter. If it is to be subject to advice on editorial principles from political appointees, the process by which it will be upheld must be more explicitly and effectively defined. The government will discuss its draft charter with staff before it is signed. If the new RTHK is to maintain a reputation as a respected public service broadcaster with a strong, independent voice it is not too late for the government to treat their concerns seriously.