Jakarta Post.com — The Jakarta Post’s founding editor-in-chief Sabam Pandapotan Siagian has passed away at the age of 84, leaving behind a long legacy of journalism and diplomacy. Through his vast achievements, he became a leading public figure and an inspiration to many. Current Post chief Endy Bayuni called him a perfectionist with a level of dedication and a keen eye for detail like no other.
“He would scrutinize word by word, sentence by sentence,” said Endy of the man whom he looked up to as a mentor and father figure since he began his career at the Post. Endy spoke highly of Sabam, who, he said, had given him his first break in journalism in 1983. It was through his experience at the Post that Endy learned the ropes of the industry.
Referring to the deadline pressure of newspapers, Endy said where others not so perfectionist could live with their mistakes the next day, Sabam was certainly not like that. When it was written and published, it had to be perfect, he added.
That is a rare quality, even today, said Endy. “He was very dedicated and a perfectionist.” At a time when the country was under the leadership of long-term leader Suharto, Sabam always remained independent and was unafraid to voice his opinion. He was often critical of the New Order regime. Reminiscing about the man who he considered a great teacher, Endy touched upon Sabam’s other impressive role as a diplomat. Sabam brought Indonesia to the attention of the world in many international forums, he said.
Tagor Siagian, Sabam’s older of two sons, remembered his father as an awe-inspiring journalist more than anything else. Tagor recalled the times when he would carry his father’s typewriter – a trusted tool which his father used all through his life – everywhere his old man would go. Inspired by him, Tagor followed in his footsteps and also became a journalist.
“Father would always stress the importance of professionalism in journalists and also being knowledgeable and upholding the dignity of a journalist,” Tagor said. Sabam passed away on Friday at 4:25p.m. after extended health complications, including diabetes and increasingly frequent dialysis treatment.
Tagor said the family had last gathered to celebrate Sabam’s birthday on May 4. It was only four days later that he was hospitalized. Among those influenced by Sabam’s stint in the Foreign Ministry was former foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda, who had fond memories of the staunch senior journalist. “Pak Sabam Siagian was to me a good friend and senior colleague, sharing his professional passion both as a diplomat and in his case also as a seasoned journalist,” Hassan told the Post.
Hassan, who was at the time of Sabam’s tenure as a diplomat heading the political division of Indonesia’s permanent representative office in Geneva, Switzerland, said it was a difficult time to be in charge of mending relations with Australia. But Sabam was perfect for the task and was there at the right time, having been a senior journalist himself and coming from a Bataknese background, the senior diplomat asserted.
His passion on diplomacy continued when he returned to the Post, having actively written on foreign policy issues and participated in relevant seminars and workshops, Hassan added. “During my time as foreign minister Pak Sabam eagerly attended the Foreign Policy Breakfast and was always willing and keen to share his experience and wisdom with his younger cohorts with all his sincerity,” he said.
Indonesian Ambassador to Australia Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, whose position Sabam held in 1991-1994, also remembered him fondly. “On behalf of all of the staff at the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra and all Indonesians in Australia who have come to know ambassador Sabam Siagian, I convey my most heartfelt condolences at his passing. Sabam was a warrior of journalism and an accomplished diplomat who dearly loved his country,” Riphat said. “Farewell ambassador Sabam, you have left many a lesson for Indonesia’s younger generation of diplomats and journalists. May you rest in peace.”
Special staffer to the coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister, Atmadji Sumarkidjo, who was a journalist at Sinar Harapan and Suara Pembaruan expressed his respect for Sabam for his willingness to nurture the younger generation to become qualified journalists by asking them to allocate time to read books.
Sabam began his early career in journalism in the two above-mentioned evening newspapers before he took the position as the Post’s chief editor. He recalled how Sabam invited reporters to his house only to give them books as he emphasized the need for journalists to understand the background and context of an event or case being pursued.
What impressed him the most was the willingness of Sabam to go into the field with reporters as well as editors just to see the real facts behind the story or to conduct interviews together. “Sabam didn’t only sit and give orders, but went along with reporters. That’s why we called him our guru, and a mentor for many of us as journalists,” he said. Sabam also nurtured a wide network of resourceful people who would then become his good friends, such as Indonesia’s noted economists Widjojo Nitisastro, Emil Salim and Subroto.
H.S. Dillon, human rights commissioner from 1998-2001, recalled Sabam as a journalist and a gentleman. ( dan )