A thousand strangenesses are yet to be observed when the report of the public independent inquiry into the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia is published, read, commented upon, fought over and shelved by a collective memory keen on the next distraction.
Here’s one. The inquiry was set up in the heat of the fire that killed a journalist for doing her job. It documented the decades-long suffering she was subjected to by the murder of crows that passes for a political class in this country. It busily gathered evidence about the harassment, the lies to discredit her, the double assault on her and on the truth about her perpetrated by media owned by political parties, the paralysing torture of court actions against her piled higher than any career criminal has ever had to face.
And then the evidence showed how the harassment, the libel suits, the character assassination were weapons as deadly in the arsenal of the conspiracy that killed her as the rifles they tested outside her home office window while she worked and the bomb they detonated as she drove between her son and her banker.
Journalists from across the Maltese media landscape dutifully documented every open session of the inquiry. Live blogs told the curious and the engaged of every gasp in court as hostile witnesses extended in her death the outrage they inflicted on Daphne throughout her life.
As they did this, journalists working for this newspaper and her sisters like Malta Today, The Shift News, The Malta Independent and Newsbook never forgot their duty to be impartial and dispassionate.
Reporters stayed loyal to their mission of neutrality in their writing no matter their feelings about what was said. Women court reporters who could recognise in their personal experience the systemic misogyny used throughout her life to chain Daphne to a rock, reported the proceedings without anger and sympathy. Reporters working for newsrooms perpetually teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, hamstrung by the liability of lawsuits and silenced by the threat of more to follow, wrote about Daphne’s two-score portfolio of libel suits with cold statistical accuracy.
Whatever they may have felt about what happened to Daphne, their professionalism would not let their feelings come through in their coverage. It did not matter that they could recognise in the facts determined by the inquiry, in the history of the experience that Daphne underwent, in the evidence of the conspiracy that killed her, patterns that could very well describe their own experiences.
The public inquiry was and is expected to establish if journalists in Malta are in danger and what must be done to ensure they did not stay that way.
To begin with, that is because no one should live in danger of life and limb because of their job. We understand this. We understand no teacher at work should live in fear of some angry parent showing up at school to beat them up or of some student who might organise their killing because they disliked what they taught. If a teacher were to be killed because of their work, their surviving colleagues would not merely call for justice for that victim but demand improvements to the protection of all of them to avoid a repetition of that crime. They would feel no embarrassment – rightly so – in fearing they might be next and insisting they aren’t.
For the sake of our democracy, journalists must not forget Daphne- Manuel Delia
Well, journalists here are nowhere near insisting enough that the killing of Daphne becomes the lesson it should rightly be for this country to learn to protect them.
But it’s not just about journalists’ right to live without fear of harm to themselves, their property and their families as a result of their work. It’s also about the community’s right to know what journalists find out, about the urgent need of any democracy that its citizens are informed, that rot and corruption are exposed so that it can be scorched either by institutional resolve or the settlement of a competent, democratic ballot.
It is, therefore, not only for journalists to call for their safety to improve. It is for all citizens to clamour against the chilling effect on their sources of the knowledge people in power would otherwise deny them.
It is strange to me that we risk allowing the killing of Caruana Galizia to go by without gaining from that horrible loss at least some improvement for the protection of journalists. The only thing we can be sure of is that we can have another Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech tomorrow but we have no reason to be sure we can have another Daphne Caruana Galizia.
People in power benefit from the lack of passion with which Daphne’s story is told by unforgivably objective journalists. The corrupt are licensed to treat Daphne’s killing as though it were just like any other, to harass, intimidate, isolate, persecute and lynch other journalists as they had done to Daphne before.
There are concrete solutions, lessons that we should learn from Daphne’s killing to protect journalists for this country. Our laws should expressly require their protection and the protection of their essential role in a democracy. Public expenditure – from ordinary advertising to emergency subsidies – must be transparent, abolishing the current system that allows the government to reward its sycophants and punish its critics.
Journalists must be protected from libel tourism and strategic lawsuits. The police must take clear sides with journalists against their persecutors.
For all that to happen, journalists must bring about the change themselves by shedding inhibitions and calling for it.
They should overcome the awkwardness of speaking in what seems to be their interest because a safer journalist is a better reporter and, therefore, capable to inform the public.
For the sake of our democracy, journalists must not forget Daphne.