On his 80th birthday today, Jakob Oetama can easily pass as an icon in many respects, ranging from journalism to entrepreneurship.
His reputation as a media mogul is firmly planted through one of the largest dailies in Indonesia, Kompas, with the Kompas Gramedia group having a wide business scope comprising printing, hospitality and, recently, television.
Jakob, the son of a teacher, was born in Jowahan village in Central Java and graduated from the Seminary High School in Yogyakarta in 1951.
He did not immediately delve into the world of journalism, but instead followed his parents’ footsteps and taught at Mardi Yuana Junior High School in Cipanas, West Java, in 1952 and Van Lith Junior High School in Jakarta in 1953.
Jakob, whose signature look involves bi-colored, chin length hair parted sideways, then took a history course while also studying at Publishing University (Perguruan Tinggi Publisistik) in Jakarta.
His career in the publishing world began when he became the weekly editor of Penabur magazine in 1955, and, six years later, he finished studying at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, majoring in publishing.
His partnering with Auw Jong Peng Koen, or Petrus Kanisius Ojong, resulted in the establishment of Intisari magazine, which publishes stories on popular knowledge, and later, Kompas newspaper in 1965.
Ojong, who passed away in 1980, had been an active figure in Indonesia’s journalism scene as well as politics.
Also starting his career by teaching, he was once a reporter for the Star Weekly, a member of the Catholic Party’s central board and the head of the Tarumanegara Foundation, which is behind Tarumanegara University.
According to the Kompas Gramedia website, Kompas started out as a move against the communist press. It was first published as a weekly with eight pages, and later moved to four times-a-week. Two years after its first publication, Kompas, which is Indonesian for compass, had become a national-scale newspaper with a circulation of more than 30,000.
The daily now publishes around 500,000 copies a day, with a readership of approximately 1.8 million-a-day.
“In the later developments, Ojong dealt more with Kompas’ business side, while I took care of the editorial aspect from the start. Everything that concerns the content, color, pattern, style and vision of Kompas newspaper, perhaps I was the one who gave a greater substance [on those matters]…” Jakob wrote in his book, Pers Indonesia: Berkomunikasi dalam Masyarakat Tidak Tulus (Indonesian Press: Communicating in an Insincere Society, published by PT Kompas Media Nusantara in 2001.
He was referring to the early days of Kompas when he, as Ojong’s “junior”, was still learning skills from the latter.
He continued to say that despite his great influence in Kompas’ content because it had been his job to deal with the subject, it “does not reduce the influence of the late [Ojong] at all. It was merely coincidental that we had a similar vision in societal problems, awhile the difference lay more in our style and subculture backgrounds.”
Jakob’s writing style is captured considerably in the sentence. Philosophical, thoughtful and polite to the point of bordering on non-confrontational and humble, yet supported by logical arguments.
Ojong came up with the idea of diversifying the company by establishing the Gramedia bookstore in 1970.
A year later, Kompas set up its own printing company. From 1973 onwards, the business continued to expand with the publishing of various magazines and books.
In 1981, PT Grahawita Santika, which focuses on hospitality, was established as part of the company.
Kompas Gramedia took over the Sriwijaya Post daily in Palembang, South Sumatra, in 1987. Fueled by the then information minister’s request that big newspapers lend a hand with the publishing permit problems experienced by regional papers, the company then established a regional press division (Persda). Currently, its regional papers bear the brand Tribun.
After a stint with the establishment of TV7 in 2000, the company tried its hand again in the world of television by setting up Kompas Gramedia Television nine years later. Kompas Gramedia TV currently produces programs as well as preparing for the establishment of the Kompas Channel.
Meanwhile, Jakob was participating in various media organizations such as the Confederation of ASEAN Journalists (CAJ), in which he became the advisor, the Newspaper Publishers Union (SPS), the International Press Institute and the Indonesian Press Council. He once held seats in the House of Representatives and the People’s Consultative Assembly.
When Ojong passed away in 1980, Jakob became Kompas’ president director, juggling the position with his role as chief editor. He was later named Kompas Gramedia’s president commissioner.
Last year, the Japanese government awarded him the honor of “The Order of the Rising Sun” for his role in improving bilateral relations between Indonesia and Japan.
That added to his list of awards, which includes a Doctor Honoris Causa degree from Gadjah Mada University and “Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2005 from Ernst & Young.
According to Kompas’ deputy chief editor Trias Kuncahyono, Jakob still attends the newsroom’s morning meetings at least twice a week and writes for the paper’s “Tajuk Rencana” column.
“[Jakob] reminds us of Kompas’…values and philosophy … on how one should have tolerance in writing the news, that each happening has a human side to it, that its not just statistics,” Trias said.
Jakob mentioned these values in Pers Indonesia as well. “Human beings and humanity, and thus its trials and problems, aspirations and desires, nobility and abjections, are the factors that are aimed to be placed centrally in Kompas’ vision,” he wrote.
He said that the daily should hold firmly to the saying “comforting the poor, reminding the prosperous.”
Trias said that Jakob, in his leadership style, was “more like a parent … he tries to embrace everyone as a big family,” and that he always tries to settle conflicts “in an elegant manner.”