Being a journalist can be dangerous everywhere
“The situation is desperate” were the last words Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative blogger and journalist from Malta, has published on her blog Running Commentary. It was 2:35 pm on Monday, 16th of October. The post, named “That crook Schembri was in court today, pleading that he is not a crook” dealt with Keith Schembri, a former chief of staff of the Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat and his testimony in court.
A little more than half an hour later, she was dead. At 3 pm, 53-years old woman’s Peugeot 108 was blown into pieces with her inside. According to The Guardian, “powerful explosive device (…) blew the vehicle into several pieces and threw the debris into a nearby field”.
Caruana Galizia was called by Politico “one-man Wikileaks”. She wrote mostly about corruption in Malta. She was born in 1964 and became a reporter for the local newspaper The Sunday Times of Malta in 1987. In 1992 she became an associate editor at The Malta Independent. She wrote for this paper until the end. She was also an editor of the lifestyle magazine Taste&Flair.
Her blog posts about that issue were a reason behind snap elections in Malta earlier this year. She was also leading Maltese coverage of – a big (11.5 million) leak of documents from the Mossack Fonesca, a law company based in Panama. A group of journalists from all over the world (coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists). After the attack, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, the president of Malta, said: “In these moments, when the country is shocked by such a vicious attack, I call on everyone to measure their words, to not pass judgment and to show solidarity”. Joseph Muscat named the attack “the barbaric act”, adding that Caruana Galizia was an of him. In 2013 she has published videos mocking him before the general elections in Malta – and was arrested for a couple of hours afterward. In 2017 she claimed that his wife Michelle owned a company in Panama – after that Muscat called snap elections (won again by his Labor Party).
Muscat also asked the FBI to help with an investigation. But some of the people, including Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew, doubts that Maltese forces would be able to solve this murder. None of the organizations claimed responsibility for the murder. Her family already asked to change an investigator – it’s currently led by a person that was criticized in posts at the Running Commentary. “Because Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and parts of Malta’s political elite were targets of Galizia’s disclosures, we strongly recommend an independent investigation of this case. The killers have to be found and put on trial” – said Lutz Kinkel, Managing Director of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, so far in 2017, 56 journalists were killed. Majority of them died in war-ridden countries like Philippines (9), South Sudan (8) and Afghanistan (7) but the case of Caruana Galizia shows that media workers in developed nations might be in danger too. And the possibility of danger might affect journalists work – the CPJ’s research is showing that “entrenched impunity fosters self-censorship, as journalists flee into exile or fall silent to avoid grave risk”. That way people are losing their possibility to learn more about the world and many important topics can remain unknown among the majority of the population.
In 2017, Index on Censorship, a British NGO that is monitoring violations of Press Freedom in 42 countries, found 7 instances of that in Malta. 5 of them were dealing with Caruana Galizia’s work (her death, being sued by the opposition leader, Facebook deleting her posts, real estate company filling libel cases against her, libel suits and warrants for assets freeze set against her by local politicians).
The murder was condemned by many press organizations, including The Center for Investigative Reporting, Committee to Protect Journalists, The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).
According to Freedom House Malta has a free press and ranks 35th in a Freedom of the Press ranking ( the list was made before Caruana Galizia’s death). Freedom of Press is “an annual report on media independence around the world, assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and digital media freedom in 199 countries and territories. Published since 1980”. In that report, “External analysts assess the 199 countries and territories, using a combination of on-the-ground research, consultations with local contacts, and information from news articles, nongovernmental organizations, governments, and a variety of other sources. Expert advisers and regional specialists then vet the analysts’ conclusions”.
Last period of tumult in Malta was in the 1980s, when instances of political violence were common – the high point of it was the murder of the Nationalist Party’s member Raymond Caruana in 1986. Lately, Malta, although widely seen as a tax haven with a lot of shady businesses – according to American journalist Rachel Maddow, “Cyprus is a notorious banking hub for criminal Russian money laundering” and “is best known in the financial world as the largest hub for laundering dirty Russian money.” – was relatively calm. According to The Economist’s Democracy Index, this country has a full working democracy. But instances like the murder of Caurana Galizia shows us, that even in a country like that, where the safety of workers should be at its high point, journalists can be in danger. And as we all know, it’s crucial for people to be informed.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”. But cases like Caruana Galizia’s are showing that even in countries widely seen as free and democratic, demanding this right might have grave consequences. And it can influence others – there is a term called “chilling effect” often brought out by journalists. It means that after some serious drawbacks (prosecution, violence, harassment etc.) of journalists dealing with an issue, there is hardly anybody who wants to report about this topic. And that’s what may happen in Malta after Caruana Galizia’s death. On the other hand – looking at brilliant investigative reporting done in much more dangerous places than Malta, we might hope that somebody will take over the investigative report in this small Mediterranean country.