Monday

30th Nov 2020

Opinion

Caruana Galizia one year on: momentum is key

  • Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered by a car bomb in Malta on 16 October last year (Photo: Continentaleurope)

Outside the Maltese Courts of Justice in Valletta, there was a sea of light: it was the glow from the illuminated mobile phones of thousands of people who had gathered to protest.

The crowd was singing the Maltese national anthem. Only minutes earlier, there had been rousing, moving speeches calling on the Maltese authorities for justice. At the front of the crowd, were two girls with tears in their eyes.  

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  • Real EU legacy would be strong investigative journalism (Photo: European Parliament)

The date - 16 October - marked the first anniversary of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder, and I was in Valletta for the week as part of an international press freedom mission.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, alongside other press freedom groups, was joining in solidarity activities, and meeting government officials to make calls for full justice. 

We have been consistently clear about what this means: the investigation and prosecution of those who orchestrated Daphne's killing (in addition to the detention of three suspects who allegedly carried it out and whose trial is pending). 

For such investigations to be credible, it is essential that those government officials and business figures implicated as a result of her reporting be questioned.

Before coming to Malta, I had been working from Brussels with EU officials on the case.

Maintaining pressure has been important. European Commission and European Parliament statements of concern and country visits, including the work of the rule of law monitoring group, have increased international scrutiny of the case.  

Her death has forced officials to note that some journalists help protect the economic interests of the EU through their investigations - and take considerable risk to do so. 

It also highlighted how many journalists were working in isolated and difficult situations. 

We will need to continue to discuss the protection challenges facing journalists around the bloc. Upholding shared EU values depends on it.

Because of her work, Caruana Galizia put herself at risk. People told her things that may have otherwise remained hidden.

Her investigations helped uncover stories that led to international breaking news: on the Panama Papers, on sales of EU passports, and on massive money-laundering in Malta - amongst other things. 

Her work will continue to be hugely influential in uncovering international financial crime for years to come.  

Forbidden Stories

Caruana Galizia's legacy lives on, in part, through Forbidden Stories, a collaborative journalism network devoted to protect and publish the work of journalists who are threatened, jailed, or killed across the world.

The project has been posthumously following up on her investigations; increasingly, it appears that she had only scratched the surface. 

"At the time, I thought these allegations were crazy," said John Sweeney from the BBC at a recent memorial ceremony in Valletta. "Daphne: I apologise. You were right."

In her journalism, Caruana Galizia would never deviate from what she wanted to say, even if it meant provoking and offending. She would not self-censor. Her writing could be seen as caustic. She could get under people's skin.

You might think that a journalist so committed to uncovering corruption would become a national hero, but Caruana Galizia was vilified by many Maltese.

Months back, I came across a leaked interview between Caruana Galizia and a researcher from the Council of Europe for a 2017 report on self-censorship.

The information presented in the interview told a sinister story: her family dogs being killed, arson attacks on her home, billboards vilifying her, online attacks, social ostracisation by her compatriots (who seemingly preferred to support a common rhetoric that she was a "witch"), libel suits, and open threats from officials.

All were consequences of her self-funded journalistic desire to uncover the less healthy aspects of Maltese life, often implicating leading government officials and businessmen.

In Malta, press freedom groups called for a public enquiry into the circumstances that led to her death, and whether it could have been prevented. We will continue to make this call.

Dangerous environment

We cannot and should not ever tolerate any type of official harassment of journalists because officials do not like their writing. It is dangerous.

The journalist community in Malta is at risk of a wider problem affecting much of Europe at the moment: self-censorship.

When enormous emotional and psychological pressure results from critical reporting, journalists in EU member states may not be so willing to take on some investigative stories.

We must continue to commit to pushing for justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia and work in solidarity with all journalists in Malta.

Continued pressure from EU institutions, including during the turmoil of next year's elections, will be needed to ensure that international attention does not drop.

We should also continue the debate around the dangers facing investigative journalists all over Europe, and examine what is required to ensure they can carry out their work safely. 

It will never make up for the light that was lost in Malta, but perhaps this can be part of Daphne's lasting legacy.

Tom Gibson is the lead advocate in Brussels of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an NGO in New York, who previously worked on press freedom in Africa

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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