“Daphne’s generation”: the rise of a new Maltese activism?
In 2017, the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta was a dire warning for the media in Europe. "The fourth estate" has never appeared in so much danger. The slow pace of investigations in the country now calls into question the efficiency and will of the judiciary, fuelling the citizens' indignation.
From Malta, by Noé Michalon and Jacqueline Whitmey
This afternoon, the warm Mediterranean stillness of the village of Bidnija is broken by the chatter of a small crowd. What gathers them in the picturesque chapel is a ceremony honouring the memory of the one the Maltese recognise by the simple first name of Daphne. The site chosen for this mass is no accident. Less than a kilometre away, on October 16th 2017, the vehicle of Malta’s most respected investigative journalist exploded, a few seconds after its driver began what was to be her final journey.
“This is no time for silence. This is the time to speak. We should end the omertà, peace needs justice” says Father David Cilia in his homily in Maltese. In front of him, heads nod in agreement. It is 18 months later,and the instigators of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, an instrumental voice in countless revelations, including the Panama papers, have yet to be found.
Who was Daphne?
Over the last decades, Daphne’s name became synonymous with independent investigative journalism in Malta, exposing her to all kinds of threats from various parts of the political class. In the last few years, her regular cutting exposés of corruption in all parties under Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s premiership attracted a whopping average of 400,000 daily hits on her personal website.
“Since she’s not there, some politicians feel relieved, as there’s no more Daphne behind their backs. She gave a major headache to many political leaders, including myself!”, recalls former opposition leader Simon Busuttil from his parliamentary office. “She attacked the establishment, the status quo, and anyone who benefitted from this system attacked her”.
Her sometimes sarcastic tone provoked passionate reactions. “She was demonised by Labour’s [Muscat’s party] media outlets”, explains Vicki Ann Cremona, who belongs to Republika, one of those advocacy groups that sprouted since October 2017 in the archipelago. “There was a sketch on TV calling her the Witch of Bidnija, which is an extremely strong word in Maltese” says Cremona, a few minutes before the mass in memory of her friend.
Stagnation vs. activism
Whilst three suspects remain in custody pending trial, a public investigation remains a chimera – and those ultimately responsible have not been held accountable. Deploring the absence of any progress in the investigations on the journalist’s death, Republika aims to sensitise the public to the challenges faced by Malta regarding rule of law. A situation which Daphne worked relentlessly to expose.
Republika, with another group called Occupy Justice, have taken the authorities to task, initiating legal action against political representatives or bringing their cause to the streets in their monthly vigils. Located right opposite the courts of justice, Valletta’s Great Siege monument is the site of regular placements of candles and floral tributes. “The government tries to eradicate Daphne’s memory and removes the flowers and candles several times a day”, points out Cremona.
Outside the chapel, on a bench overlooking the Bidnija valley, Daphne's sister, Corinne Vella thinks at the continental level to avoid a new tragedy. Herself a journalist, she posits: “When an EU member state has problems, it’s the whole Union that experiences them. We should look at the wider context: this is a problem of transnational crime which would require a transnational structure to be dealt with”.
But efforts are slow to come to fruition, despite prominent witnesses being heard by the Council of Europe, such as Malta’s attorney general in early April. “I am pro EU, but still disappointed by the failure of the European institutions to take action” laments Simon Busuttil, himself a former Member of the European Parliament. “We try to push them to act, but the EU cannot save us from ourselves”.
A journalistic renewal as a legacy?
Not only is there a demand for justice for Daphne, but justice for the Maltese people - whose need for the truth is more pertinent than ever, at a time when Malta’s ranking is falling in World Press Freedom Index. “There has never been a more urgent need in the country for fearless journalism”, reads The Shift News’ description. Founded by two investigative journalists a month before Daphne’s death, this media is widely followed by the activists we met.
Another fervent admirer of Caruana Galizia, whom he considered as his “professor”, Manuel Delia created a personal website upon the same pattern, publishing investigative news with regular reports and opinions on the various attempts to maintain Daphne’s memory and work.
At a broader level, shortly after her assassination, a coalition of foreign investigative journalists from various Western media outlets launched the Daphne Project to continue her stories. But the limited number of investigations published so far, on burning topics like the Electrogas power project, widely covered by Daphne in her time, can hardly replace the then persistent voice of Daphne and her sense of pedagogy. “She could explain cryptos to an idiot like me” laughs a close reader of her blog. “And now, there is nobody to replace her, except perhaps her kids…” As a matter of fact, her oldest son, Matthew is already a Pulitzer prize winner…
More than a journalist
As an opinion leader, her prolific pen made her blog a living memory of the history of Malta over the past decade - a society in mutation since the early 2000s. She developed concepts to describe - sometimes bitterly - her people, such as the Demimonde, to designate the new generation of rich Maltese, “having accumulated the trappings of consumerism during their speedy exit from nowhere”.
There is a consensus that Daphne remains without equivalent. “The cultural blind-spots are huge. So now, although journalists claim to speak her message or take on her banner, they have not any clue where to start”, regrets another anonymous reader of Daphne’s blog, who was in direct contact with her for several years before her assassination.
Some regret the lack of political commitment in the support of Daphne’s legacy, qualifying as “fake activism” the activity of these groups. “Advocacy groups tend to depoliticize Daphne, focusing only on the freedom of speech part. She would not like this”, says one of these commentators.
Instead of freedom of speech as the sole focus, they insist on recalling Daphne’s libertarian and pro-European views about the Maltese multiple identities, a burning topic in this former British territory located between Sicily, Tunisia and Libya. On such issues, assurances of anonymity were a prerequisite to discussing both her legacy and her work, speaking volumes about the political climate in Malta.
Besides the journalist and opinion leader, Daphne is irreplaceable as a woman. Those who knew her reiterate the need to remember her as a multi-faceted person who was not only respected but also greatly loved. She was a passionate enthusiast of aesthetics. “I knew her first through her magazine Taste and Flair, on which she was writing about design and fashion”, remembers Rosa Borg, member of Republika. “We should never forget that she was also a wife, a sister and a daughter”, she adds, as the first notes of ‘Abide with me’ resonate from the church, announcing the beginning of the mass.