When hell broke loose

What happened on Monday afternoon in Bidnija was simply reprehensible and tragic

Probably this is the grimmest opinion I have ever written about the late blogger and writer Daphne Caruana Galizia.  

There is no beating about the bush, we did not see eye to eye. And that, I believe, is an understatement. 

But what happened on Monday afternoon in Bidnija was simply reprehensible and tragic. It was a terrorist attack and went far beyond the accepted form of engagement.  We would duel with the pen and believe it or not it would stop there.  

Even if at times it would be excessive.  

This murder was calculated, precise, cold and unforgiving. The work of an individual who has large resources and who had every intention of committing murder. I do not believe it was political. But it is far too early to say. If it is politically motivated then this is truly bad news.

Ironically in the last weeks, MaltaToday and Daphne Caruana Galizia’s writings converged on more than one occasion. This was because both were focusing on Adrian Delia’s business interests.

I knew Daphne professionally over a 35-year period, it was not always acrimonious.  Before that we shared the same primary school, a co-educational school, it was St Dorothy’s in Sliema.

She was an introvert, reserved and never loud. She made up for this in her writings.  She was well read, never appeared on TV, but her English was of such a high standard that she was often a much sought after feature writer in various foreign publications. She also opened her own marketing company, Proximus.

What stood her apart from the rest was her amazing command of the English language and energy. Her writings were not prosaic but inimitably well-constructed and flawless. She realised this talent very early on, and immersed herself in the world of coffee table magazines, notably the Circle. But it was not this feature writing that would make her rise to fame. Rather it was her habit of turning gossip and mixing it with hard-nosed journalism.  

Over the years the lines between the two became increasingly blurred.

In 1992 I remember her support and vote for the Greens (Alternattiva Demokratika), describing Fenech Adami as a village lawyer, but that changed as she embraced the PN and was seen increasingly close to Richard Cachia Caruana, who was not only her friend but Eddie Fenech Adami’s personal assistant.

Daphne Caruana Galizia continued her career as an opinion writer and contributor with The Sunday Times of Malta.  

In both The Malta Independent and The Sunday Times she courted controversy with her news reportage that would land the newspapers in direct confrontation with the establishment. In one case it would be the confidential evidence in the matrimonial separation between Alfred Sant and his wife and in another instance about the allegations surrounding the Armed Forces commander’s son in drug trafficking. 

She later moved on to become assistant editor of The Malta Independent before entering the world of magazines with a set of high-quality magazines such as Taste.

She continued to contribute regular columns to The Malta Independent on a weekly basis and was well-known for her direct style of writing and no-nonsense approach.  She was relentless in her criticism of Labour, seeing nothing remotely good but not afraid of being the odd one out. 

Simultaneously, in 2008 she kick-started her personal blog known as Running Commentary, which earned her both admiration for her fearless critique, as well as contempt for her poison-pen missives which contributed to the large number of people who derided her. 

In her blog she revealed much newsworthy matter, such as was the case of the Panama papers, but she also used her blog to decimate opponents or those who did not quite fit in her grander design of things. Her allegiance to the PN was irrefutably clear and declared. 

In 2016, she was named by Politico as one of “28 people who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe”, as a result of her reportage on Panama.

In April this year she led with a story alleging that the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle, owned Egrant, the third Panama company that had been mentioned in Panama Papers. But she failed to present the hard evidence to substantiate her allegations, apart from the eyewitness account of a Russian Intern who has since disappeared. That showdown led to an early election, which saw Joseph Muscat winning the second election with an even larger majority.

There was general sentiment with many Nationalists after the election that Daphne Caruana Galizia was no longer their best marketing tool.

After the election Caruana Galizia, to everyone’s surprise, turned her sights on Nationalist Party leadership candidate Adrian Delia. MaltaToday was also following the same trail of evidence on the matter. Delia had in fact acted as a lawyer for a Maltese company in London that was involved in a prostitution ring more than a decade ago. Caruana Galizia remained a harsh critic after Delia won the PN leadership.

Caruana Galizia was renowned at times for her divisive, personal and inaccurate commentary, which landed her into several defamation cases – at the time of her death she was facing 42 pending cases. Five of these were filed by Adrian Delia.

Nonetheless she was fearless and served as a reference point for many young writers and journalists. Daphne Caruana Galizia was hated and loved equally.

She also had her matchless characteristics.

Daphne was consistent, she upheld liberal values, stood for women’s rights, migrant issues, environmental concerns, was anti-racist, she was a persistent warrior for good governance and a zealous anti-Labourite. She was unfeeling not only in her style but also with her friends. She placed her beliefs before her friendship and in actual fact she dumped her one time media friend, Lou Bondi, when he crossed the border for greener pastures after the 2013 election.

When both our homes were attacked by arsonists, I did not have second thoughts in visiting her home and offering solidarity. As friends we had long drifted apart but we shared the same views on her stand on migrants. I have Voltaire’s quote in my mind: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

That is what I had told Daphne when her home was attacked by right wing arsonists.

When we last met, it was after she phoned me out of the blue and asked to meet. We met at our office, she talked of how much we shared the same views. I listened. We agreed to disagree but we agreed to bury the hatchet. That truce persisted until the arrival of an early election. And then it started again.

Malta’s media scene has been denuded by this barbaric attack. It will never be the same and all other journalists are shocked and confused. It is now the job of politicians to rise to the occasion and push for the legal structures that invigorate journalism in Malta. It is not going to be easy. Daphne, who was never a member of any organized journalists body, would at least be content that her very tragic demise, this cruel murder, may trigger change and raise Maltese journalism to new heights.