Monday, June 15, 2009

Why Suffer for Supper...

...when Suharto is on your cover?

(Koran Tempo's controversial cover of Suharto and family. Source: Google Images)

Of course, if the image on your weekly resembles a certain iconic painting:

(The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Source: Google Images)

Then one can only expect an uproar of indignance from your audience.

In their article, 'Indonesian weekly apologises over Last Suharto Supper cover', ABC News (2008) reported that the Koran Tempo, which depicted former president Suharto and his family in a composition that mirrored Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, sparked a wave of furore from the Christian communities in Indonesia. This led to the Koran Tempo's editor-in-chief issuing an apology over the whole debacle.

"We had no intention of hurting Christians. We were only inspired by the composition of the Leonardo painting, and not in the concept or context of the event told in the holy bible," said Toriq Hadad in his apology.

However, when one has power over a publication, one must be mindful of the contexts of one's audience. Under Indonesian law, a publisher must apply for a publishing license from the Information Ministry, and this license can be revoked on editorial grounds, i.e. publishing offensive material (Harsono 1996).

To better understand why the Koran Tempo's cover was the scandal of its day, and a pertinent example of unethical publishing, we refer to Halliday and Hasan's (1985) context of situation.

Halliday and Hasan (1985) define three characteristics of context:

1) Field: Namely, what is happening. The Koran Tempo's cover was related to their content - a dedication to the passing of Suharto and the legacy of his presidency.

2) Tenor: The people involved. In this instance, the Koran Tempo's target audience was Indonesian, which also includes some Christian communities (ABC News, 2008).

3) Mode: The role of the (visual) language used. Suharto's depiction on the cover, which mirrors Christ's position in the Last Supper painting, is highly ironic as Suharto was a corrupt figure riddled with scandals, while Christ is a revered religious figure for Christians worldwide (Wikipedia 2009).

Walsh (2006) echoes Halliday and Hasan with her theory of 'levels of meaning', which infers that readers process information according to the cultural knowledge and general knowledge they already possess.

Therefore, readers who are culturally aware can easily spot the similarities between Koran Tempo's cover and the Last Supper painting, and anyone with sufficient general knowledge can deduce that to liken a corrupt premier with a godly figure, whether as a form of aspiration or inspiration, is obviously and highly insensitive in any context.

In conclusion, despite the Koran Tempo's apology, their 'Setelah Dia Pergi' issue cover is a regrettable decision that will always be a textbook case of unethical publishing.

(400 words)


ABC News 2008, Indonesian weekly apologizes over Last Supper Suharto cover, viewed 14 June 2009,

Halliday, MAK & Hasan, R 1985, Language, context and text: aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective, Deakin University Press, Waurn Ponds, Victoria.

Harsono, A 1996, Indonesia: from mainstream to alternative media, First Monday, viewed 14 June 2009, <>

Walsh, M 2006, ‘The ‘textual shift’: Examining the reading process with print, visual and multimodal texts’, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 24-37

Wikipedia 2009, Christ, viewed 14 June 2009, <>

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