WHEN the Government proposed to appoint Stephen Lam Sui-lung to the post of Information Co-ordinator, was there a secret agenda? Was he, for instance, offered $180,000 a month and a status equivalent to policy secretary in order to outrank the Director of Broadcasting, Cheung Man-yee? Was he, in other words, being given the power to bring Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) to heel? It is not a theory with much currency even among the staff of the government broadcaster. Most worry Mr Lam will be more concerned with trying to control the flow of information than trying to control RTHK. Ms Cheung firmly rejected the notion, pointing out Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa had pledged RTHK would retain full editorial independence. Mr Lam's job was to 'co-ordinate, not to control', she said. The Information Co-ordinator was there to help the Chief Executive by disseminating information. She did not accept any threat. Legislators agreed. Independent Ma Fung-kwok said control of RTHK had not come up during the discussion of Mr Lam's appointment, and would not have won the support of Legco. Indeed, as Choy So-yuk, the broadcasting policy spokeswoman for the conservative Hong Kong Progressive Alliance, pointed out, if there were to be any government control over RTHK, it would be up to Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting, Kwong Ki-chi, to exercise it, not Mr Lam. 'Mr Lam has nothing to do with control,' she said, adding the best way of ensuring balance is to ensure the media is given the information it needs. 'If anything, RTHK should be one of his clients.' Yet the RTHK journalist who did raise the matter may have had more of a point than his colleagues or bosses concede. Pressure on RTHK to conform to government thinking is not a new phenomenon, as Ms Cheung is the first to admit. 'We don't pretend we don't have pressure. We just have to face up to it,' she said. For the past 15 years she had been explaining the government broadcaster did not have to be the government mouthpiece. Perhaps. But the suspicion the appointment has aroused has its roots in the more recent battle for the hearts and minds of the Chief Executive and the conservative elements behind him. That battle raged early last year after provisional legislator Wong Siu-yee criticised RTHK for mocking Mr Tung on air and tried to bring the station under control. When Mr Wong's backer, Mirror Monthly publisher Xu Simin joined in the attack, Mr Tung was originally reported to have responded with the words, 'Slowly, slowly' - very different from his later affirmation of RTHK's independence. RTHK's response was to announce it would adopt guidelines similar to those followed by the BBC. Ms Cheung now reports that the station monitors the airtime given to different political parties and government officials to ensure it cannot be accused of bias. Privately, however, station management acknowledge the pressure has not let up and that the fight for RTHK's independence will have to be waged with ferocity and determination for the foreseeable future. They fear the civil service, which grudgingly began to open up under the leadership of Chris Patten, has gratefully retreated behind closed doors again, now that its Chief Executive so obviously regards the media as the enemy. That is why Mr Lam's appointment causes, if not exactly suspicion and consternation, then at least the nagging worry that he will try to exercise more influence behind the scenes than his role officially allows. It is also why the refrain from within the station, even from those who do not see the Information Co-ordinator as a direct threat to its independence, is to tell him to open up, not to play one newspaper or broadcaster off against another, and above all to wheel out the top civil servants for interview. As one RTHK reporter said: 'If he wants the government view to get out, his job is not to bring us to heel, but to get officials to return our calls and be forthright. That would be a way of creating more balance. I hope he does not see his job as ensuring that if he speaks, no one else should, or, if he says nothing, that no one else should be allowed to speak out either.'