Unpublished stories: Archaeologist of corruption assassinated in Malta

Shortly after the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, I had my pitch accepted by the Equal Times, which turned into an article about the murder and DCG’s place in the society. As Malta marks half a year since her death, below I’m posting an edited version of the bits I prepared while doing research on her work last year but ended up not using in my article.

Experiences like [those quoted in the article] show how divided Malta remains under the public displays of unity in protests that rock the country’s capital demanding justice and resignation of the very officials Caruana Galizia used to criticise on her blog. Caruana Galizia had made enemies not only with her poignant writing about politicians, but also her unconcealed contempt for the Maltese working-class subculture. In her columns, she insisted on holding public personalities to standard in taste just as much as in transparency. “I am fed up of living in a society dominated by savagely aspirational hamalli,” she wrote in her blog post about the Prime Minister’s wife’s dress.

The blog, Running Commentary, subject to 42 pending libel suits at the time of the author’s death in a country that criminalises libel, was known to disregard the principle ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Yet Caruana Galizia made it clear that the concept of ‘proven guilty’ was elusive in the country where magistrates are politically appointed, people without a clean criminal record can still be recruited into the police force, and politicians with offshore companies keep their jobs. The blogger reported receiving threats, but refused police protection.

Switchboard of information

Having chosen archaeology for her university studies, Caruana Galizia could probably sense that she will be known for a different kind of digging. Before graduation, she was already a newspaper columnist. Her career spanned three decades, with her signature style developing in her columns for The Malta Independent. In 2008, she set up a blog, which soon surpassed established media houses in readership. Many Maltese not only turned to her blog for sharp, scathing reporting on the powerful, but also sent her tips on Gmail and WhatsApp whenever they saw the powerful overstepping any boundaries.

Using leaks and social network profiles, she sourced juicy stories and allegations about the lives, friendships and style choices of politicians and their family members, about journalists, and various officials small and big, leading her targets and opponents to withdraw from public life, explain themselves, or try to financially ruin her with lawsuits. The latest World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders places Malta on the 47th position globally, with criminalisation of libel as one of the main concerns, citing an incident when Caruana Galizia’s bank accounts were frozen “at the Economy Minister’s behest”. In the latest narrative report on Malta, Freedom House also points to lengthy legal proceedings.

Writing in a bipartisan country

Caruana Galizia started her career during the last years of the turbulent era of Labour Party’s government (1971-1987) in the two-party state. The Nationalist Party, currently in opposition, returned to office in 1987, but lost to Labour in 1996. The short-lived swing was enough to freeze the archipelago state’s EU bid, which drew much criticism from Caruana Galizia.

When Nationalists came to power for another 15 years and saw Malta become an EU member State, Caruana Galizia’s PR company, Proximus PR, received a governmental contract to consult the government on international outreach. Criticised for partisanship, she firmly believed that the centre-right party had a better record of honour, integrity and good taste. While frequently standing up to human rights, Caruana Galizia worried that these victories will preempt critical analysis of the government’s performance with regard to corruption. In January, she slammed Aditus, a human rights NGO, for extending the formal address, “Dear Prime Minister”, to the man she so despised.

One of her early columns (21/09/1997) proclaims that her anti-Labour views “are a result arrived at by means of rational thought, and not irrational sentiment or misplaced historical loyalty. That is freedom.” In the same column she promised that should the Nationalists take an anti-EU turn, she would withdraw her vote and ‘stay at home’. Her romance with the Nationalist party ended when it elected a new leader this year. Caruana Galizia went on to uncovered his association with members of the underworld, his offshore bank account and alleged dealings with a brothel owner in London. Delia denied holding offshore accounts, although he admitted being involved in the business dealings with the said client.

Being subject to many personal attacks had taken its toll on the relentless writer. Already in 1997, writing for The Malta Independent about government officials’ lavish trips abroad during Labour’s brief return to power, she confessed: “I am tired as hell.” (14/09/1997). “The problem with democracy is that WE can end up getting the government YOU deserve,” she wrote on her blog in 2008.

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