Joseph A. Debono, Caroline Muscat (Eds) INVICTA: The Life and Work of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The Pertinent Press, 2017.
One day in the late 1980s, the late Anne Mamo (née Kemp), with whom I had worked as a young sub-editor at The Sunday Times of Malta some 25 years previously, called on my editor, Tony Montanaro, to introduce her husband’s niece, who wished to write a regular column for the newspaper. As deputy editor, I was present at that meeting.
Anne was married to Wilfred Mamo (who, in 1990, lost his life when his boat capsised off the Sardinian coast). Tony readily agreed to have the young woman, by then already married with children, contribute a weekly column to the newspaper. Her name was Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Little would I have imagined that, 30-odd years later, that shy-looking but straight-talking columnist (she had already started writing in a Sunday magazine) was to be so brutally murdered in a Mafia-style car bombing.
Like thousands of others, the news of Daphne’s horrific assassination on that fateful Monday, October 16, left me stunned, as it did thousands of others who were moved to take part in the string of demonstrations and protest marches which started within a few hours of her death.
Many tributes have been paid to Daphne, styled “the one-woman Wikileaks” for her formidable investigative prowess, in Malta and abroad, where news of her assassination hit the headlines, moving Pope Francis himself to express his sorrow; a leading Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, to dedicate an entire eight-page supplement to her; and the European Parliament to pay fulsome tribute to her memory in the presence of her husband, Peter, and their three sons Matthew, Andrew and Paul.
I am sure, however, that one of the most long-lasting tributes to the slain journalist is Daphne Invicta, a veritable festschrift in her honour which her friends, working to a very tight deadline, produced within a month of her death. These included fellow columnists, academics and intellectuals, and artists who provided illustrations. They provide a wide range of insights and interpretations of Daphne’s character and her immense contribution to Maltese society.
In his Preface, Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, president of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), said that in February 2017, the EFJ had alerted the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism about the libel suits and garnishee orders (amounting to €46,000) against Daphne by Economy Minister Chris Cardona. A month later, hotelier Silvio Debono filed no fewer than 19 libel suits against her.
Yet Daphne continued to show extreme resilience in the face of judicial and economic intimidation, smear campaigns and attacks on her moral integrity, the EFJ president writes. He notes that since April 2015 no fewer than 21 journalists have been killed, and hundreds of others have been thrown into prison by repressive governments, with Turkey topping the list with over 140 behind bars.
Bjerregård urges the European Union and the Council of Europe to introduce mechanisms in all European countries to prevent governments from passing legislation hostile to journalism and to ensure the safety of all journalists.
Classics professor and the book’s co-editor Joseph Anthony Debono, in his Introduction, describes Daphne as “one of the most significant persons in the history of Malta in the past decades” and a peerless writer in English. What she attacked most, he continues, was the democratic deficit, the very limited understanding in Malta of democracy as mere majority rule.
Taking a leaf from Socrates, Debono finds an appropriate analogy for Daphne in the gadfly, for she stung, and stung hard. She picked up her pen and stung the State and its people to life, revealing things which made them buck, kick and squirm.
Long-time friend and The Sunday Times of Malta columnist Petra Caruana Dingli makes a heartfelt character study. She writes in detail on Daphne’s life and journalistic career and stresses her espousal of environmental causes, especially that of the built environment.
Caruana Dingli highlights the fact that in 2016, Politico, the Brussels-based newspaper dealing with EU affairs, recognised Daphne as one of “28 people who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe”.
Giovanni Bonello, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, states that Daphne’s murder has all the hallmarks of a Mafia-style killing. Entitled ‘Daphne in Mafialand’, his contribution is a brilliantly written tribute in which he describes her as “one of the few to understand the fundamental essence of freedom of expression”.
Recounting a few anecdotes regarding his friendship with Daphne, Bonello regrets her not taking his advice to take some of the few libel cases she lost all the way to Strasbourg, “where an almost guaranteed win would have awaited her”.
In a withering final comment, he states: “Malta’s Parliament abolished the death penalty of March 21, 2000. It was only retained for the crime of challenging the powerful.”
Andrew Borg Cardona, a fellow columnist and a lawyer who works closely with Daphne’s husband Peter, puts paid to “the myth” that Daphne was an instrument of the Nationalist Party or that she dictated its agenda, since she would certainly not be told what to write.
He bemoans the fact that Daphne was left alone to plough on, in her determination to get at the truth and uncover abuse of power, with little or no support from fellow journalists.
Daphne held politicians to account, academic and author Mikela Fenech Pace insists. She could not stand mediocrity, and she criticised the way politicians dressed and behaved in the hope they would improve. Indeed, the things that set her apart were hope and trust.
Daphne hoped to see Malta become a normal society in which standards of behaviour matched the best international standards. She also enjoyed people’s trust, since they would give her leads and stories which she would follow up, and they were safe in the knowledge she would protect her sources.
Fenech Pace rightly observes that Daphne’s success was measured by the intensity of the attacks against her, and goes on to define her, with no hint of hyperbole, as “the most influential woman Malta has ever produced”.
Fr Joseph Borg, writing on the intimidation of the media, makes the disquieting assertion that The Malta Independent was promised more government advertising if they stopped carrying Daphne’s columns, appearing every week on Thursdays and Sundays.
Journalists and newspapers were also threatened by commercial interests, he adds. Daphne was also pressured in court to reveal her sources, since the lawyer of a minister who felt libelled by her revelations absurdly argued that she was not a journalist.
Victor Calleja says he was encouraged by Daphne’s “ghost” to continue writing his blog. Her columns and blog-posts dictated the nation’s agenda. Her targets were corruption in all its forms, financial crimes and ostentatious lifestyles which belied legal sources of income. “In many ways she was our conscience,” Calleja writes, even though he felt uncomfortable whenever she denigrated people for their looks, height, the way they dressed and giving them nicknames, but there is no doubt that her success was her undoing.
Kristina Chetcuti, another Sunday Times columnist who was in Daphne’s Archaeology course at the University of Malta, puts it bluntly: Daphne broke all the rules, going against Maltese tradition, including that of treating women as second-class citizens.
A good example of this is when after some €69,500 were raised in a crowdfunding exercise to enable her to make good for the garnishee orders issued against her, she donated the surplus to Dar Merħba Bik, a women’s shelter.
Award-winning British journalist and author Jonathan Freedland notes that in 2017, Daphne was the 10th journalist to die while in pursuit of the truth. Journalists around the world constantly face threats. They are also under political attack in the democratic world – US President Donald Trump’s aggressive stance to the media is a prime example.
A wide range of insights and interpretations of Daphne’s character and her immense contribution to Maltese society
Daphne was dedicated to what should be journalism’s core mission, which Freedland defines as “finding things out, inserting new facts in the public realm, exposing wrongdoing, speaking truth to power, holding the powerful to account”. And Daphne fulfilled that mission.
Luke Harding, another British journalist who worked on the Panama Papers leak, in which Malta – a respectable member of the European Union – was found to be rotting from the head down, says it was Daphne who uncovered this bitter truth: Keith Schembri, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, and Energy and Health Minister Konrad Mizzi had set up secret companies in Panama and trusts in New Zealand.
In 2016, Daphne was one of 400 journalists working secretly on the Panama story, with an agreed publication date of April 3. Her revelations caused outrage in Malta, but Schembri and Mizzi stayed put.
A year later, she alleged that a third secret Panama company belonged to the Prime Minister’s wife. Though Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party cruised to victory in the election he called just 10 days later, Daphne was unbowed, and carried on with her investigations into corruption and abuse of power – until she was murdered.
Daphne’s stories took her readers into a Malta few people ever saw – an underworld of drugs, organised crime and corrupt government, writes Caroline Muscat, a fellow investigative journalist and the book’s co-editor.
Caroline chronicles the vicious personal and physical attacks on Daphne, which increased in intensity: in 1995 her front door was set ablaze; then the throat of the family dog was slit and the corpse placed behind her door; in 2006, tyres filled with petrol were placed behind her house and set on fire… and of course, the ultimate and fatal attack last October 16.
Daphne was the one to call Caroline first when the latter broke the story of the Gaffarena scandal in May 2015, which led to the resignation of Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon (who last June was appointed minister), and offered her support. The two became friends after Caroline fell ill and was home-bound for several months. Daphne called her frequently.
Caroline argues that the Labour victory last June was meant to send a message: that despite the scandals which racked the Muscat government, this is the new normal, but “Daphne’s death will ensure that that will never be permissible”.
As expected, Daphne’s blog-posts elicited a host of comments from readers, many of them using a pseudonym. Recounting his personal experiences of her blog, Godfrey Leone Ganado says he contributed 2,000 comments since her first post on March 2, 2008, which she had titled “Zero Tolerance to Corruption”, and he reckons she did not publish about a tenth of them. Indeed, Daphne edited readers’ comments very carefully, ensuring they were factually correct.
Leone Ganado rebuts the claim that Daphne often “destroyed families” through her personal comments: “Such damage was caused by the very persons she called out, for destroying their families through things such as adultery and sleaze”.
As she wrote in her very last commentary, published at 2.35pm on that fateful Monday – less than half an hour before she was killed – “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.” Famous last words indeed.
Jacques René Zammit, a lawyer at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, started his political blog, J’accuse (after Émile Zola) in March 2005 – three years before Daphne. He argues that Daphne the blogger was different from Daphne the columnist, and proceeds to give an accurate description of her blog’s contents. He was the first to comment on her first post, and explains why, not surprisingly, her blog was to become an institution.
Sociology professor Godfrey Baldacchino describes Daphne as an excellent wordsmith, and an example to many of our university students whose written English is generally of poor quality because they dedicate very little time to reading. He bemoans the fact that our students are not studying on a full-time basis as they are also economically active.
Before Daphne, no Maltese journalist had ever been assassinated for what he or she wrote, states Professor Henry Frendo, who has written a history of journalism in Malta. He mentions various examples of attacks on Press freedom by Church and State, including condemnation and imprisonment.
A culture of impunity reigned in the 1980s, and although the situation improved after 1987 and EU accession in 2004, uncovering corruption is still very risky for Maltese journalists. Frendo asks: Will Daphne’s crusade for civil liberties and against corruption vanish with her death? If so, her death would really have dented the island’s freedom and democratic spirit.
According to columnist Ranier Fsadni, the role Daphne occupied died with her. Her blog had several areas of interest: reporting news stories with some spectacular scoops, then opinion and gossip, where “she could range from insightful to plainly dotty or, alas, plainly ignorant of established facts”. One would expect occasional slip-ups given the sheer volume of writing involved – 20,000 blog posts in nine years.
Daphne refused all TV and radio appearances, yet she was a constant media presence. On various occasions she was chased by Labour TV cameras and reporters. In 2016, to counter her, Glenn Bedingfield, a communications co-ordinator at the Office of the Prime Minister, started his own blog and made her his main target, with photographs of her going about her daily business, accompanied by leering and mocking comments.
Fsadni rightly observes that after she broke the news of the Panama scandal, her investigative stories dictated the country’s political agenda. In three areas, her blog was path-breaking: satire, financial journalism, and stories, accompanied with photos, fed by her “international network of spies”.
Former US Ambassador to Malta Douglas Kmiec states that Daphne believed in the supremacy of truth, but despite her Catholic upbringing, she would regularly end up on the secular side.
She had criticised him once for suggesting a negotiated settlement with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which would have saved lives. He believes that on that occasion, Daphne’s disillusion with some of the Catholic tradition got in the way of her usually dispassionate, and competent, intuition. Nevertheless, Daphne was Maltese democracy’s ‘detective’.
Anthropologist Paul Sant Cassia draws 16 ‘lessons’ from Daphne’s assassination, in which he looks at the contradictions of Maltese society. It was an assassination foretold, it was ‘thinkable’, because she was much more than a symbol of free speech.
Sant Cassia ends by recalling another aspect of Daphne, namely her love for food and the beautiful things of life, which she explored in her magazine Taste and Flair: “In those luscious printed magazine pages, another Daphne appeared, one that left far behind the sordid little world of local nastiness, moral cheapness and corruption that she exposed so bravely, and emerged cleansed and free.”
Kenneth Wain, former dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Malta, writes that besides protest, Daphne’s death should occasion soul-searching about where we are as a society. This was not a purely personal murder; it was carried out in a spectacular manner by someone who wanted not just to exterminate an inconvenient journalist but to send a warning that freedom of expression comes at a price one is not prepared to pay. It would thus qualify as a political murder. The definite answer will be known when the instigators are identified.
Wain insists that the right to freedom of expression is fundamentally the right to offend: “The right to offend must be sustained and protected because what offends can be true, and can offend precisely because it is true – and the truth can be dangerous and inconvenient, as Daphne found out to her cost.”
Daphne Invicta contains cartoons and illustrations by Debbie Caruana Dingli, Celia Borg Cardona, Marisa Attard, Steve Bonello and Ġorġ Mallia, which pictorially complement the multi-faceted tributes to this brave and outstanding journalist.
The publishers have decided that any profits from the sale of this book will go to a charity chosen by Daphne’s family.