RTHK could be set for more turbulent times after Director of Broadcasting Franklin Wong Wah-kay yesterday announced he would not renew his contract when it expires in February. Editorial staff hope a new chief will lead RTHK - currently a government department - down a path to becoming a public service broadcaster and also carry out reforms to improve staff morale. But the government says it will select a successor through open recruitment. Observers say by opting out of an internal promotion, the government is making it clear that it does not want someone from RTHK to lead the broadcaster. Wong, 67, has had a tense relationship with staff during his 21/2years' service. He cited health problems as his reason for leaving. 'Recently I underwent coronary bypass surgery. Later I seriously considered the matter and talked with the government. It was after that I made this decision. Before that we had nearly come to a consensus,' he said, without elaborating on whether the consensus was that he would stay. He said he discussed the renewal of his contract with the administration for several months. The departure of Wong comes amid a new era, with the operation of an 11-member advisory board - appointed by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in August - under a new RTHK charter which defines the roles and missions of the broadcaster. The charter requires the director of broadcasting to explain to the board when he chooses not to take its advice on editorial principles, programme standards and service improvements - a clause which critics say amounts to interference. 'When I first took up this job, RTHK was facing an uncertain future. It was very challenging at that time that we had to negotiate with the government for a decision of the future of RTHK,' Wong said, referring to a review of the status of RTHK conducted by the government. 'I'm proud to say that we together, all the staff together, have proved our worth, and the government has now recognised us as the public broadcaster of Hong Kong.' The RTHK Programme Staff Union, which has long fought for RTHK to be transformed into a public service broadcaster, said its chief should be selected through internal promotion. 'The director of broadcasting is the chief editor of RTHK. He must be someone who shares the organisational culture of RTHK, who can stand firm against any test of editorial independence, and who is very clear on our mission,' union chairwoman Janet Mak Lai-ching said. The assistant directors of broadcasting, Tai Keen-man and Cheung Man-sun, would both be suitable candidates, Mak said. Tai applied for the job in 2007 after then director Chu Pui-hing retired early over an embarrassing incident in which he was photographed by the media hiding behind a woman, reportedly a karaoke hostess, in Causeway Bay. To Yiu-ming, assistant professor in the department of journalism at Baptist University, said: 'By opting out of internal promotion, the government is clearly indicating that it does not want someone from RTHK - with a mission to promote public service broadcasting - to lead the broadcaster.' The search for a new director could be difficult. The government failed to find a suitable candidate in the first round of its previous recruitment exercise, triggering a second round in 2008 with a lower academic qualification requirement. The move then sparked speculation that the government favoured RTHK talk-show host Robert Chow Yung, who only completed secondary education. Professor To said he could see no one outside RTHK who could lead it to develop into a public service broadcaster. 'With the development of digital broadcasting, more electronic media will emerge and the industry will become more competitive. Without the prospect of being transformed into a public service broadcaster, RTHK will just be one of many broadcasters in Hong Kong,' he said. Wong Yuk-man, chairman of the Legislative Council's information technology and broadcasting panel, and a former radio talk-show host, said the problems with the unclear role of RTHK lay with the system, not with the person who heads it. 'On the one hand the government says it won't make RTHK its mouthpiece, but on the other hand RTHK is under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and has to report to the advisory board. Whoever takes up the job won't make any difference under this system.'