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Indonesia

Indonesia mourns veteran Catholic journalist

Jakob Oetama, founder of the country's largest media group, has been hailed a national figure

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Indonesia mourns veteran Catholic journalist

Jakob Oetama, a devout Catholic and founder of Indonesia’s largest publication ‘Kompas,’ died aged 88 in Jakarta on Sept. 9. (Photo: Kompas Gramedia)

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Indonesia is mourning the death of Jakob Oetama, a veteran Catholic journalist and founder of the country’s largest media group, Kompas Gramedia.

Oetama, 88, died on Sept. 9 at Mitra Keluarga Kelapa Gading Hospital, Jakarta, after suffering multiple organ failure.

He was buried with a military salute at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery, Jakarta, on Sept. 10 in a ceremony led by former vice president Muhammad Jusuf Kalla.

President Joko Widodo called Oetama a press and national figure. "He is a true journalist. He has high critical power, which is conveyed in soft and polite language. I feel the loss over his death," he said in a social media post.

Press Council chairman Mohammad Nuh said Oetama was a smart, intelligent and polite figure. "We will all miss a figure who pays attention to human values," he said.

Oetama was born on Sept. 27, 1931, in Jowahan village, Central Java, to a Catholic family. His father was a teacher. He completed his secondary education at St. Peter Canisius Mertoyudan Minor Seminary.

In his biography published in 2011, he said he had initially intended to become a priest. However, he later became a teacher and taught at Catholic schools — Mardiyuwana Junior High School in Cipanas, West Java, and Jakarta's Van Lith Junior High School.

Oetama's career in journalism stemmed from his post in 1956 as editor of Penabur magazine run by the Franciscans in Jakarta.

He said his life choices changed because of an encounter with Franciscan Father J.W. Oudejans, who asked him to establish himself as a journalist when he had doubts about becoming a lecturer.

Together with several Catholic figures, such as national hero Ignatius Kasimo and former minister Frans Seda, they started Kompas daily, which became the forerunner of  the Kompas Gramedia Group, whose business has expanded to various platforms including online media and television as well as other fields.

He received various awards including the 2013 Asia Communication Award from the Asian Media Information and Communication Center.

The Sept. 10 edition of Kompas, where Oetoma was editor-in-chief from 1965 to 2000, was specially dedicated to him, with a picture of him covering the front page.

Father Gabriel Sindhunata, a Jesuit priest who was a journalist at Kompas from 1977 to 2012, called Oetama a simple figure and true to his faith.

"His wealth is the fruit of his simplicity," he said as he presided over the Requiem Mass broadcast by Kompas TV.

He also called him a man who believed and nurtured Kompas with the conviction of his faith.

"The life of a journalist was deeply lived and loved by him. For him, journalism was not just a profession but a calling,” he said.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, referred to Oetama as a figure who emphasized the role of the media in spreading human values.

"He has left an important lesson on how the media brings the value of peace and progress in pushing society to be more inclusive, as has been demonstrated by Kompas," he told UCA News.

Meanwhile, Rikard Bagun, a Catholic layman and former editor-in-chief of Kompas, called Oetama an egalitarian figure who was open to everyone without knowing any barriers.

“We felt like brothers. He treated all of us equally regardless of our ethnic or religious backgrounds,” he said.

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