The pen conquers fear

The burnt wreckage of the car Daphne Caruana Galizia was driving
The burnt wreckage of the car Daphne Caruana Galizia was driving

Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder was not just an attack on a person, but an affront to all journalists, and indeed a barbaric and terrorist attack on the serenity of our nation and democracy.

Without forgetting that her family is shouldering the deepest pain of all, there is no escaping the fact that the murder has rocked all members of the media trade, and anyone else with nothing but love for their country. This newspaper grieves the passing of a human being who also shared the democratic ideal.

The crime was a despicable act that deserves nothing but outright condemnation by all, irrespectively of the views one may have had of Caruana Galizia’s writing. Her execution has left us in an atmosphere of dread, anxious for the emotional state of the country, fearful of the political instrumentalisation, and terrified by the prospect of free speech being stifled.

It is this chilling effect that we in the press must resist. And the message conveyed today by all media houses that have joined forces in a symbolic gesture, is that we will not succumb to the culture of fear.

We will not stop shedding light where others want darkness to prevail. We will not shut up. Silence will not prevail.

Journalists will continue exposing this society’s dark secrets. They will continue speaking truth to power.

It is not an easy task, especially in a small country where everyone knows everyone. Indeed, Caruana Galizia knew this but she soldiered on and paid for it with her life.

This is an extraordinary moment for this country’s democracy and it is not just journalists who have to know this.

For starters, politicians should take a step back from the rhetoric and show magnanimity in the face of what has happened. The puerile blame-game has to stop, if only at this juncture, so soon after a cold-blooded assassination.

This does not mean that the institutions of this country, including the police, the judiciary and other watchdogs, do not require a long hard look. Over the years, many, including this newspaper, have called for changes to the system that sees these institutions being too cosy with the political class, especially the government of the day, and big business.

There is no escaping the fact that our police force has to develop a spine to truly act without fear or favour. And while it is pathetic to witness a police force that has had no fewer than five police commissioners in four years, it would be simplistic to argue the rot only started when the Labour Party returned to government in 2013.

In this atmosphere of lack of trust in the police force, there is no doubt that Lawrence Cutajar has to make way for a new Police Commissioner who can inspire trust in the force, force a radical culture change, and also condition the government into bolstering the force. This newspaper embraces calls for more autonomy, better salary conditions for police officers, and better resources for the force that can help it carry out its job properly.

Admittedly, this is no consolation and Joseph Muscat’s government has every duty to ensure the police force rises to the occasion in its investigation of the Caruana Galizia murder. The roping in of foreign experts is more than welcome but the crime conference held last week was anything but a reassurance that the people in the higher echelons of the police force are on top of things.

The nation deserves answers. It wants closure. And it wants urgent reforms in the State’s regulators, it wants serious institutions defending our democracy, it wants the executive’s powers to be in constant check, it wants the House of Representatives to control any abuse of power, and it wants civil society to have a greater say.

This execution was a barbaric assault on the fourth estate – an important pillar in a democracy – and as a consequence was a threat to everybody’s freedom of speech. It took place in a climate where impunity has been tolerated because of the State’s testing of the media’s tenacity, and belief that money can blind the electorate to its shortcomings.

It is a system that has been inbuilt in our two-party consensus on alternation of power. Two tribes rule this nation, serving their own or those ready to worship at their altar. Critics of power and civil society have been shunned for decades.

To be on the vanguard of civil society, the fourth estate must be supported, and respected. Let the pen be mightier than the sword, and the torchbearer for truth. Democracy dies in darkness.