Aristides Katoppo: senior journalist and The Conversation Indonesia co-founder, dies at 81

Aristides Katoppo. Courtesy of Bea Wiharta

Aristides Katoppo, one of the co-founders of The Conversation Indonesia, died on Sunday in Jakarta. He was 81 years old.

His remains will be cremated today at Oasis Lestari, Tangerang, Banten.

A senior journalist and environmental activist, Aristides helped launch a number news, as well as rights and environmental, organisations.

Light of Hope

Born in Tomohon, North Sulawesi in 1938, Aristides began his journalistic career as a reporter at Persbiro Indonesia Aneta (PIA), during the height of Sukarno’s power, and a New York Times stringer.

Aristides was one of a group of journalists who started the afternoon daily Sinar Harapan (Light of Hope) in 1961. The Soeharto regime shut down the daily several times over Aristides’ reporting.

In 1972, after reporting about the state budget before it was officially released by the government, Soeharto took away Sinar Harapan’s license to publish.

The government gave Sinar Harapan’s license back in 1973 with the condition that Aristides be removed from the newsroom.

The same year, after receiving threats from the military over his family’s safety, Aristides flew to the US and received the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship from Stanford University.

When he returned to Indonesia in 1975, Aristides became more involved in the management side of publishing. He managed the tabloid Mutiara (Pearl) and book publisher Sinar Harapan Pustaka.

Soeharto shut down Sinar Harapan again in 1986. Four years after the end of the Soeharto regime in 1998, Sinar Harapan was resurrected and Aristides was appointed editor-in-chief.

The newspaper eventually closed in 2015. But he encouraged a group of young Sinar Harapan journalists to bring the publication online and continue its legacy into the digital era.

‘Friend, teacher, and advocate’

Aristides became involved in launching The Conversation Indonesia in 2015, as part of an advisory board set up by the then president of The Indonesia Academy of Sciences, Sangkot Marzuki and myself – with the support of The Conversation’s founder Andrew Jaspan.

Aristides immediately saw the value of The Conversation’s mission to provide evidence-based journalism by making knowledge from universities and research centres accessible to a general public.

He said

Many people in Indonesia have long wished for research from Indonesia to be more widely known outside the academic world and be useful for the society. By popularising research that can benefit society, Indonesian researchers and scientists will not only fulfil their duty to their institutions but also their social responsibility.

With Sangkot Marzuki, conservationist biologist Jatna Supriatna and lawyer Tuti Hadiputranto, Aristides co-founded The Conversation Indonesia in 2017. He then served as Chair of The Conversation Indonesia’s governing board.

Marine scientist Gino V. Limmon, from Universitas Pattimura in Ambon, said Aristides always stressed that research must be known by the general public.

“He always tells me that scientists must write in popular language so a lay person can understand what we do and what we found,” Gino said.

Gino, who also serves on The Conversation Indonesia’s supervisory board, recalled his most memorable moment with Aristides. He said Aristides asked him if he was doing his research wholeheartedly.

“I answered yes, and he smiled and said ‘that’s very good, because if we work wholeheartedly then everything will turn out good’.”

Jatna Supriatna remembers Aristides as “a friend, teacher, and advocate for human rights and the environment”.

Once an avid mountain hiker, Aristides loved nature. Aristides also helped found the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).

He was crucial in the founding of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) as well as the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute.

May his soul rest in peace and his legacy continue.