The hostile attitude towards the media in Malta displayed by the government, as well as the continued attacks by its members on Caruana Galizia and her family after her death, only serve to further erode the climate of media freedom in Malta, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
In an interview with The Shift News, the UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent said Caruana Galizia’s assassination was an eye opener. It shed light on other problems in Malta in terms of the climate that allowed for her to be brutally killed.
“The hostile attitude towards the media in Malta displayed by many public officials is really worrying, as is this continued hostility towards Daphne posthumously as evidenced by continued libel suits, some of which were brought by top government officials. It only serves to erode the climate of media freedom. It must be addressed,” Vincent said.
She worked in Azerbaijan for a number of years and drew parallels with the situation there. Journalists have been murdered and jailed in Azerbaijan. Although not on the same scale, Caruana Galizia’s murder in Malta was similar to cases there, according to Vincent:
“I do see some similarities. A few of the stories Daphne was working on exposed the links between Maltese and Azerbaijani officials. Azerbaijan is not a EU Member State but it is a member of the Council of Europe and they do have issues with corruption and it’s been a poor climate for freedom of expression for years. That’s worrying”.
The Police Commissioner’s behaviour has fuelled RSF concerns. Lawrence Cutajar ignored Vincent’s request for a meeting and failed to address the international organisation’s concerns. The Shift News asked Vincent what she would put to him:
“I’d like to ask why the deputy commissioner [Silvio Valletta, husband of Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana] hasn’t been removed from the investigation despite having a very clear conflict of interest in violation of Article 2 of the European Convention.
“We’re obviously interested in the progress of the investigation and we want to know whether this could have been prevented. Also, what lessons could be learnt to prevent this from happening to others?”
RSF is demanding “full justice” on Caruana Galizia’s assassination. “The bigger picture is that this is not going away with a few arrests. That is not full justice,” Vincent said.
Full justice means that every person involved in every aspect of this deed from the planning stage to the carrying out of this attack is identified and prosecuted.
“Any degree of impunity here does leave the door open for this to happen to others and that has a chilling effect, not just in Malta but more broadly,” Vincent added.
Last week, a 27-year old Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak was shot dead, together with his girlfriend, in their home. Vincent referred to the second journalist murdered in the EU within five months, saying:
“Without full justice the message sent is that those who wish to use force to silence critical journalism can get away with it in Europe. That’s not ok”.
She said Caruana Galizia’s assassination will impact Malta’s press freedom ratings. Malta is currently ranked 47th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by RSF.
At the moment, Malta sits just below Taiwan and Romania and it seems Botswana and Tonga will now surpass Malta.
RSF wants international oversight on the situation in Malta. The organisation that works in defence of press freedom has called for the establishment of a special rapporteur at the Parliamentary Assembly at the Council of Europe to be appointed to oversee the investigation. It got broad support, with 114 signatures, and it is now in the process of being considered.
Vincent called on governments that have representation in Malta to “very closely monitor the situation”.
Yet, she also saw hope: “It’s always a bit of a paradox when you’re in such a beautiful place and yet there are such dark issues hanging over you. I’ve been very struck by those who are sticking with this despite the risks – the dwindling, embattled independent media. That is inspiring”.
“There’s a lot that needs to be done to strengthen the free expression climate in Malta and to allow independent journalists to do their job. If anything positive can come out of Caruana Galizia’s assassination it’s that it can be used as a catalyst for change,” she said.
Reporters Without Borders joined the march on Friday organised by anti-corruption group Il-Kenniesa. “It is such an honour to be here with you tonight. What you’re doing is so important, and I know that sometimes you might feel unsupported, but you have the support of the international community. Every time you come together it’s a message that this case will not be forgotten,” she said to an applause from the crowd.