Where do we go from here?

I, like so many others, was outraged by the vicious assassination. When I received the news from a police source that Daphne Caruana Galizia had been bombed, I could not believe it

This has been a very trying and difficult week for the whole country. I am shocked and sad, and I have been shaken by the events of last Monday.

And the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia could, I am afraid, not lead to much change, unless we make that change happen. 

I, like so many others, was outraged by the vicious assassination. When I received the news from a police source that Daphne Caruana Galizia had been bombed, I could not believe it. The editor in our MaltaToday newsroom would not take my word that she had been killed in a car bomb. 

We waited for two news websites to put up the news first and it was only then that we decided to go ahead with the tragic news.

I was no admirer of Daphne Caruana Galizia. For over 25 years I always confronted her: her style of writing, her ruthless and unforgiving portrayal of people. Daphne was an expert in mentioning people and listing simply their association with one of her targets. Her followers delighted in this guilt by association. I never questioned the quality of her writing, but I did question her motives. 

Her pungent pen and flawless style was careless about the hurt it caused people. But there were also many occasions there when we zoned in on the same themes. Migration, women’s rights, accountability, divorce and corruption.

But there was also a major consideration which many people had forgotten. She had spent most of her adult life bolstering the Nationalist Party, both when in government and even more when in Opposition. Her stories were carefully timed to coincide with the political campaigns of the PN.

The Panama Papers was her greatest triumph, and it was drip-fed days before Konrad Mizzi was to contest the deputy leadership of the Labour party. She was not only a fearless blogger but also a political animal. And she managed to become sophisticated at this vocation by nurturing her special friendship with Richard Cachia Caruana, the sharp political tactician of the Nationalist party. For many years, to be a Nationalist writer was the natural thing. The Mintoffian politics of the eighties were unbearable and stifling, and there was no difficulty or moral impediment to wholeheartedly hit out at Labour politics.

Daphne grew up in the shadow of the ugly world of Mintoffian politics. They were difficult times and unlike many of today’s youth, the people who engaged in this kind of journalism during this period were tough and resilient. She was exactly that, but she was also unforgiving, and she would remember everyone’s past and remind them what they had been doing 10, even 20 years ago.

When I think about it, I suffer from the same fixation, with a singular difference. That unlike most people of my age, I never believed in the supremacy of the political party. I never believed that my political convictions would not back a different party if need be, and for that I was not linked to one party but to several. Nonetheless what she experienced in June of this year was to leave an indelible and lasting effect on her vulnerability.

In June of this year, something happened that was to change the tone and slant in her writings. She turned her guns on Adrian Delia, the PN leadership candidate. In four months she fired dozens of salvoes against Delia, calling him a crook. She accused his band of supporters of everything under the sun: drug dealing, villainy, thievery, corruption. 

Worse still, Adrian Delia waged a war against her, declaring her ‘the symbol of hate’. Had that come from yours truly it would have sounded familiar, but from an aspiring Nationalist leader, it was simply incredible. Suddenly the PN’s Boadicea was without a home and without a power base.

Somewhere in the vengeful psyche of a criminal mind, the time was ripe to attack. A plan had been devised well before the act itself was put into action. 

Her itinerary must have been carefully noted and followed and researched with the precision of an assassination in mind, and the plan enacted with precision.

There is no doubt that the blame game has already started. For those who accuse someone of having blood on their hands, I can only say that in most cases the accusations are exaggerated and wrong. Daphne had no qualms in slating people. Very few had the privilege of having access to the media to reply. And various of her accusations were based on hearsay and gossip.

Her right of expressing herself was met with a plethora of civil defamation cases, like any other journalist. Probably Daphne and I share the highest number of defamation cases in Maltese history.

But it is right to say that the police had an obligation to protect her and to protect other journalists. It is not true we feel safe. If we did feel safe, we would publish more stories of people suspected of being in the drugs and fuel smuggling trade. We do not because we know there are repercussions. Journalists are not superheroes.

When I wrote at the beginning of this year a story of drug dealers in Gozo and ministerial involvement in the charges, I was very careful not to mention names. When I referred to the tough guys with criminal records milling around politicians I also made it a point not to refer to their names. Daphne was different: she mentioned their names and pasted their Facebook photographs with the story. She went further, and made it a point to give their physical attributes and some background to their personal status, often irrelevant to the story.

That must have delighted her readers. She was courageous, and also reckless.

Somewhere in the vengeful psyche of that criminal mind, the time was ripe to attack. A plan devised well before the act itself was put into action

We do not report about everything because we fear that not even the police and security forces can get their act together to ensure our protection.

Our police force must be better remunerated and more significantly, they need to start to think better. Since last Monday, no police contact has been made with any journalists or media house to ascertain if they could be facing a potential threat or to assess if they are in danger. No change in protocol.

And this is the first week.

I cannot imagine having police protecting each and every journalist, but I did expect some kind of wake-up call.

The second thing is that we need to upgrade the police and security forces in this country, equip them with vaster resources and give them more tools to fight this new terrorism.

In the last 10 years we have had 19 bombs, and our ability in solving them has been incredibly barren. There has been an amazing response from all the governments that have governed over this period of bombings. That response was… no response at all.

My final point is about journalism. There is nothing more precious in life than life itself. To sacrifice one’s life for a story is not justifiable. But we must find ways to get our stories across. Journalists should not put themselves out there and risk their lives. And we have the responsibility to act responsibly and report faithfully, backed by facts and when appropriate with comments from individuals being probed.

Daphne’s murder has left many people with heightened emotions. It has reopened the wounds that were starting to heal after the June election, creating more division and animosity.

It is up to us to decide whether we want to allow this haunting event to take us down further or to learn to make our decisions and get this country out of this crisis.

We can start by making journalism a worthy component as the fourth pillar.

I would like to think that Daphne’s death has made us more humble, understanding, less conceited, less angry and more willing to accept that change is possible if we want to have a more respectful, just, rewarding and honest life.

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