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Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I did a presentation recently on the print controversy which happened in January last year following the passing of Suharto, Indonesia’s second President. The controversy was that Tempo; a weekly Indonesian magazine published a photo of Suharto and his family in the style of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper on the cover of their 4-10 February 2008 issue.

Unsurprisingly, the Tempo issue drew numerous criticisms from Christians in Indonesia and worldwide. Most took offense at the cover claiming that it compared Suharto, a leader of violent regiments and political war to Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Source: Loyal KNG

Shortly after, Tempo ran an apology saying “we did not intend to hurt Christians”. Toriq Hadad, the editor of Tempo also openly apologized, explaining that the cover was chosen because of the inspiring composition of da Vinci’s original painting. Tempo magazine claimed they had no intention of highlighting any religious or cultural elements in their adaptation of the The Last Supper. (ABC News, 2008)

My presentation analyzed the magazine cover while referring to the three main issues in Kress & van Leeuwen’s key elements of composition which is informational value, salience and framing. I also discussed the publishing ethics behind the Suharto cover.

Informational value refers to the importance of an element on a document. It varies based on where the element is placed in the document. (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006) Placing Suharto in the middle of the cover beckons that the informational value of Suharto is high and that he is the most important person on the cover. The fact that he is in the original position of Jesus Christ on the cover also relates to that.

Salience refers to the most interesting element on a document. (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006) As you can see, Suharto is dressed in white and has more lighting, making him contrast with the background and his family members who are in darker tones. The ‘ray’ of light surrounding Suharto gives him some sort of godlike effect which makes him more salient in the cover.

Framing connects or disconnects certain composites in a document. Framing an element will make readers pay more attention to that element. (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006) Suharto is framed around by his family members who are all looking at him with ‘awe’ on their faces. This draws attention to Suharto making him appear important.

The Tempo cover opens various discussions of the issues and ethics in publishing. Jean Webber states publishing ethics demand that people be responsible for their own actions. (Webber, 2005) It was the right move for Tempo magazine and Toriq Hadad to apologize and take responsibility for offending audiences with their cover. However I believe that Hadad, failed as an editor to identify the possible negative backlash the Suharto cover would have had before running the issue.


  1. ABC News 2008, "Indonesian weekly apologises over Last Supper Suharto cover," online, retrieved 18 November 2009, from
  2. Kress, G & van Leeuwen, T 2006, "Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Communication," 2nd edn, Routeledge, New York
  3. Weber, J.H. 1995, "Ethics in Scientific and Technical Communication" Wisenet Journal, Vol.38, No.1, pp. 2-4

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