09/09/2020, 15.33
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Jakob Oetama, founder of the Kompas newspaper, has died

by Mathias Hariyadi

An iconic figure in Indonesian journalism, he founded the well-known daily in 1965. With the support of the local Catholic Church, he promoted social, ethnic and religious pluralism in the country. For Card Suharyo, he was a man of "good virtues" and his newspaper is the "people’s conscience”.


Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Jakob Oetama, founder of the Kompas daily newspaper, and an iconic figure in Indonesian journalism, died today at the age of 88.

Affectionately known by his initial J O, since journalists in his newspaper sign their pieces with their initials, Oetama was in poor health in the past few weeks. He will be buried tomorrow in the Kalibata Heroes' Cemetery in South Jakarta.

With his partner Petrus Kanisius Ojong, an ethnic Han Chinese businessman, and thanks to the support of the then Plantation Minister Frans Seda, Oetama published the first issue of Kompas on 28 June 1965.

Over the years, Kompas has become Indonesia’s most important and influential newspaper. It was first suggested by General Ahmad Yani, commander of the Indonesian army at the time, who urged Minister Seda to find "good and Catholic" professional journalists to set up an independent and impartial newspaper.

The goal was to address the growing influence of the Indonesian Communist Party, linked to Sukarno, the country's first president. From the start, the paper received the support of the local Catholic Church, which also financed its activities.

Before publishing Kompas, Oetama was editor in chief of the Catholic weekly Penabur; together with Oyong, he also published the Intisari magazine.

Born in a village near the largest Buddhist temple in the world in Borobudur, Magelang Regency (Central Java), he attended a seminary in his youth.

After completing his studies at Mertoyudan Minor Seminary, he graduated from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, and taught high school for a while.

At the time of Kompas launch, Oetama managed to recruit the best journalists, picking them from various ethnic backgrounds to promote the country’s cultural, social and religious pluralism, without giving in to the interests of any one political group.

The publication owes its success to its editorial “neutrality”. Twice, in 1965 with Sukarno, and in 1978 with Suharto, the paper was unable to publish because its position was disliked by the authorities.

In an exclusive interview with AsiaNews, Card Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, Archbishop of Jakarta and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Indonesia, remembers Oetama as a man of “good virtues, and he had many.”

His name, the cardinal explained, refers to a personal vocation to perfection, which is a fundamental character for reaching the fullness of the Christian faith. “Oetama pursued the same 'fullness' of a good Christians through journalism and his newspaper,” he added.

According to Jakarta’s archbishop, thanks to Oetama, Kompas has become the "people’s conscience," living up to its motto.

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