**update from the author: It has been revealed that the alleged telephone call between ship owner Pierre Darmanin and Economy Minister Christian Cardona did not take place. Read more details here.
The sunny afternoon of October 16, 2017 deeply shocked the Maltese and the international public. The news of a powerful bomb explosion in Bidnija which had taken Daphne Caruana Galizia’s life was too horrific and inconceivable a crime to come to terms with.
Despite (or perhaps due to) the controversy with which her journalism was associated in Malta, Daphne Caruana Galizia was a towering opinion-maker whose influence on national politics was unrivalled. She was truly a household name in journalism. A name that inspired admiration and indignation in equal measure, albeit seldom in the same people.
The first—and the only!—significant breakthrough in the investigation, assisted by experts from the FBI, Europol, and the Finnish and Dutch security services, happened on December 4, 2017. “One of the biggest police operations in Maltese history” resulted in the arrest of ten seasoned criminals, three of whom stand accused of murder. Whether admitting it openly or not, many are convinced that the captives are mere executors contracted by a powerful third party whose name(s) still remain(s) unknown. “It was almost like the bomb had been arrested”, Caruana Galizia’s son Andrew told The Guardian.
As the investigations continue, calls for justice for the slain journalist grow stronger across the world.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat explained this lack of action by having been given “legal advice which stated that new inquiries should not be launched until the ongoing investigations were complete.”
In April 2018, a consortium of 45 journalists from 18 news organisations unveiled The Daphne Project whose purpose is to carry on the journalist’s investigative work. Among their top findings is the revelation of a highly suspicious interaction between Christian Cardona, Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Business, with a man suspected of fuel smuggling and one of the men accused in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder. Despite the seriousness of this revelation, no further inquiry into it was made by the government. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat explained this lack of action by having been given “legal advice which stated that new inquiries should not be launched until the ongoing investigations were complete.”
The institutional lethargy and the state of impunity are truly frightening. The government is clearly not encouraging the progress of the investigation, which is why the civil obligation to demand justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia becomes more imperative by the day.
“Justice for Daphne!”
“Justice for Daphne!” is the motto of the Ġustizzja series of demonstrations, led by anti-corruption activist groups like Occupy Justice, Civil Society Network, Awturi and Il-Kenniesa.
The meaning of justice may well be self-evident, but it is worth spelling it out here. As defined in Cambridge Dictionary, justice is both “the system of laws in a country that judges and punishes people” and “fairness in the way people are dealt with”. As the system of laws, justice is universal. And even if fairness of treatment largely depends on individual perceptions of it, according to the dictionary, to be fair is to “consider everything that has an effect on a situation so that a fair judgment can be made.”
Justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia in the eyes of the law is still pending: the masters behind the assassination have not answered for this atrocity.
Justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia in the eyes of the law is still pending: the masters behind the assassination have not answered for this atrocity. They remain free and, most probably, still enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Justice before the law is a universal human right and the slain journalist is entitled to it as much as any other victim of murder. And the public overseeing of transparency and accountability of the investigation is paramount for legal justice to succeed.
But is there another, special measure of justice reserved for investigative journalists? A relevant question, considering that the murder of the Maltese journalist was linked to her anti-corruption activism.
It could be reasonable to dedicate more attention to journalists due to their outstanding role in society. In some cases, those who seek to hold the powerful to account deliberately put their life at risk. Security of journalists in general is a sharp indicator of the state of democracy (however, some would argue that the rate of day-to-day crime is an equally important marker). Thus, if investigative journalists are actively willing to risk their lives for the good of society, it may only be fair to admit them first in line for attention and justice, which ought to include demanding a fair trial for the crime as well as assessing the nature of the victim’s work.
While the progress of the criminal investigation of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder has been alarmingly slow, an assessment of her journalistic legacy appears to have been done thoroughly. Judging by the international media’s uniform appraisal of her journalism and by the number of awards (at least 9) granted to her posthumously, she has been recognised as an exceptional journalist, entitled to full justice not only as the victim of a brutal crime but also on the basis of the virtues of her work.
Since it is precisely the nature of their work that makes investigative journalists so exceptionally valuable to society, would it be fair to critically assess their legacy posthumously? How compatible is insisting on the urgency of legal justice with criticism, if a journalist was brutally assassinated for her work?
It is indeed debatable, yet I believe that—for the sake of fairness—demanding legal justice should not prevent us from examining to which extent the slain journalist’s work was dedicated to just causes.
How Fair was Daphne Caruana Galizia’s Journalism?
Critical assessment of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s legacy and motivation is no simple matter.
Amid the repugnant comments by public officials and the efforts by the government to wipe the makeshift monument out from Great Siege Square, any criticism of her journalism risks to be misinterpreted as an endorsement of the assassination. It is worth noting that not everyone who refuses to see the late Caruana Galizia as a model of ‘conscience in the media’ is a crook, Labour Party acolyte, or a person for whom criticism of the government means ‘treason against Malta’. In fact, a number of people disagree with an uncritical appraisal of her work precisely because it is incompatible with their conception of fairness and integrity.
Since it is justice for the journalist we’re demanding, whitewashing her ambiguous legacy is anything but just.
As Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew acknowledged, “her role as an investigative journalist only started when the Labour Party was in government.” The Maltese journalist gained international attention after publicising the Panama companies of two Labour Party (PL) government officials in 2016. The following year, Caruana Galizia once again stormed the local and international headlines with a new revelation. Based on the testimony of a former bank employee, she claimed that the Prime Minister’s wife owned Egrant, a Maltese company featured in the Panama Papers, which allegedly had received enormous sums of money from the Azerbaijani government (the inquiry released on July 21, 2018 concluded there was no evidence to support this claim, but doubts about its accuracy remain).
She dedicated a great effort to exposing corruption and activities of organised crime, but she was highly selective in her targets.
During the years of the PN administration Caruana Galizia enjoyed direct proximity to power. Not only did she not hold the previous PN administration to the same scrutiny, but even reviled everyone who dared criticise her preferred administration. And the reasons for scrutiny were plenty. The Malta shipyard scandal—which lost the shipyards €80 million and led to their privatisation—was one such case, but she applauded the move instead.
Undoubtedly, the Labour Party administration deserves harsh criticism for its staunchly neoliberal policies and cosiness with corruption. The evidence of abuse of power by the PL’s officials is now for all to see—one needs to look no further than the Panama Papers. However, it is fair to note that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s special focus on this party long predated the revelations—and hardly was she disgusted with the PL due to its record of corrupt practices alone.
Her anti-Labour bias had an unmistakably elitist tone. “Bad fashion” and “tacky taste” of Labour Party’s politicians seemed as important to her as their abuse of power. It appears that Caruana Galizia saw a direct link between individuals’ inappropriate manners and their inclination to corrupt practices. A closer look at some of her articles suggests that her antipathy to the PL ran so deep because, in her opinion, it stood for the interests of—and was represented by—“philistines,” “trash,” “peasants,” and “bogans.” Caruana Galizia was no alien to classism: she seemed to believe that the people she classed as bogans should never hold any position of power.
Thus, honouring Caruana Galizia’s activism for its anti-establishment rationale is not quite justified: rather than challenging the powerful tout court, she loyally guarded the privileges of her exclusive circle from the aspiring elites she deemed inferior. In other words, her journalism sought to weaponise the evidence of corruption for the sake of driving out rival political newcomers and restoring the rule of the pedigreed elites.
Finally, neither did Caruana Galizia challenge the systemic fault of Malta’s troubled economic model with its dubious tax regime and heavy reliance on financial services and gambling. She did not criticise the crooked economy, only the damage crooks in power did to it, arguing that the PL’s tarnished reputation threatened the success of Malta’s offshore economy. “Malta was getting along swimmingly before the Prime Minister and his two henchmen decided to set up companies in Panama,” she wrote, adding that “only since April 2016 [has] . . . Malta . . . attracted this kind of hostility.”
Is Justice for Saints Only?
While rightfully insisting on justice before the law for the assassinated journalist, the international community seems reluctant to conduct a fair account of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s journalistic work.
Questions abound: Why must a controversial legacy necessarily be whitewashed? Why can’t demands for transparency and accountability of the investigation co-exist with the acknowledgment of the late journalist’s ambiguous motivation? If justice is universal, why demanding it must be further buttressed by heroic narratives?
Why does claiming justice for the person so devoted to free-market evangelism, so vehemently opposed to socialist politics and everything working class, need to be asserted by alluding to left-wing luminaries like Bertolt Brecht and Federico Garcia Lorca?
Mythologies are a splendid fertile ground for political opportunism on a national and international scale. Journalists whose activism does not go beyond exposing misdeeds of individual politicians and their associates are convenient heroes: their activism does notthreaten the structural foundations of the neoliberal world order which itself perpetuates grave injustice.
Perhaps, in the eyes of the international community, mocking people on the basis of their social background and a selective approach to exposing injustice are fair. Or worse even, maybe classifying Maltese society as “essentially criminal” does not raise an eyebrow because it matches the perception of the country abroad?
Perhaps the explanation is even more straightforward: heroic stories write themselves. They also sell better. Besides, there is certainly more to gain for yet another prestige-hungry journo in appraisal of a late superstar: it could land a lucky chance to further ascend in ranks and grab a few awards along the way. Critical assessment, on the other hand, is an unprofitable business—it’s likely to close doors, not open them.
Could it be that the contemporary society simply does not deem anyone lesser than a saint worthy of justice before the law? If this is the case, the crisis of justice transcends the limits of the legal system—it runs truly deep in today’s society.
But perhaps there is more to it. Could it be that the contemporary society simply does not deem anyone lesser than a saint worthy of justice before the law? If this is the case, the crisis of justice transcends the limits of the legal system—it runs truly deep in today’s society.
It should be apparent that legal justice cannot be reserved uniquely for saints and heroes. Justice cannot be served in portions—a larger one for ‘martyrs’ with spotless morality and a smaller one for ‘sinners’. Compared to plain glorification, sound criticism of the rationale behind the late journalist’s work is far more devoted to the principle of equality before the law, because it does not regard a ‘sinner’ any less worthy of justice than a ‘saint’.
As worthy of criticism for class prejudice and seeking to advance the interests of her exclusive clique, the slain journalist is no less entitled to legal justice than if she truly were a high-principled selfless social justice activist. No matter how ethically compromised Caruana Galizia’s work was, it cost the journalist her life—and that means she does not require a thick layer of whitewash to be deemed worthy of justice.
And justice cannot wait any longer! A year has passed since the assassination and yet the true architects of this ghastly crime have not been found. Impunity is a heavy burden on our collective conscience; its rot affects each and every of us, because a society which does not serve justice to its citizens is broken beyond repair.
Ultimately, the true crusade for justice should go even further from bringing all of the murderers to the courtroom and demanding resignation of corrupt state officials. We must target the foundations of the existing offshore economy that thrives on financial scheming and gambling, all to the benefit of organised crime—and Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder has itself become the strongest argument for change.
This piece was originally published on Isles of the Left. It has been published here with permission.