How can journalists fight back against threats and violence?
This was the topic of Pulitzer prize winner Matthew Caruana Galizia’s speech to a packed audience at the world’s largest and most prestigious international journalism festival (IJF), which wraps up today in Perugia.
Caruana Galizia opened his presentation by describing the hate projected onto his mother, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated 18 months ago, and the attacks the family suffered over her 30-year career as a journalist in Malta.
As if on cue, Media Today’s Managing Editor Saviour Balzan, clearly irked by the speech, proceeded to attack Caruana Galizia on social media.
Balzan’s newspapers carried two articles reporting Caruana Galizia’s presentation. In the English-language newspaper Malta Today, the headline read, ‘Investigation into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder designed to collapse, son says’.
In his other Maltese-language newspaper Illum, the headline took a different turn: ‘Muscat huwa dittatur – Caruana Galizia lil ġurnalisti mid-dinja kollha’ (‘Muscat is a dictator – Caruana Galizia tells the world’s journalists).
Balzan then took to social media to call Caruana Galizia “a liar”. The report spurred even more vicious comments on Illum’s Facebook post, where the hate whipped up against Daphne Caruana Galizia was transferred onto her son.
Caruana Galizia’s keynote presentation at the festival called for a collective effort by journalists to employ the range of tools at their disposal, presenting a 15-point plan to affect change in Malta, Europe and beyond.
“We can’t bring her back to life,” he said, referring to his mother’s assassination, “but we can make sure that it never happens again.”
Balzan either missed the point, or he is intentionally misleading the public to defend the indefensible. The argument underpinning all this seems to be that while Caruana Galizia’s remarks in Perugia damage the country’s reputation, the actions of a government busy transforming Malta into a mafia-ridden banana republic apparently do not.
In a separate IJF debate on censorship, Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, who is being harassed in her country for her investigative work, explained how the worst kind of threats came from journalists who attacked others in the profession to gain favour with power.
And yet, Balzan talks about “gutter journalism”.
There’s a reason why Caruana Galizia was invited as one of the journalism festival’s keynote speakers, while Balzan sat at home whining.
As if answering the Pied Piper’s tune, the Labour Party rode on Balzan’s post. Prominent among them were some of the Party in government’s bright stars for the upcoming European Parliamentary elections. Josianne Cutajar, who also works as the Legal Coordinator at the Office of the Prime Minister, stood out by displaying an abysmal lack of understanding of what democracy means.
“What kind of electoral defeat will it take to get your head out of the sand and stop being arrogant?” she said. But she wasn’t the only one parroting the government line that democracy is all about winning an election, after which the people must bow their heads and obey.
Konrad Mizzi’s consultant Tony Zarb – the former union boss now living off the government gravy train– pitched in too, saying the European Parliament elections would teach “that blogger’s son” a lesson. The lesson Zarb fails to grasp is that someone who champions workers’ rights does not live off workers’ taxes, paid to do what seems like nothing at all. Attacking government critics is not a job.
The tone was set, and the attacks gained momentum. The Labour Party account threw up a number of false allegations against the journalist’s son, implying that he was somehow responsible for his mother’s death: “Why did he leave the car outside?” As though this were an invitation for a bomb to be placed, rather than the work of masterminds who wanted her silenced and who remain free.
“Cow dung”, “piece of shit”, and “your mother sucks the devil’s cock” were among the vile comments written under Illum’s Facebook post. The comments were seeded in Labour’s online hate groups where a meme was circulating to reinforce hatred against a journalist killed under this government’s watch.
And they wonder why Caruana Galizia told an international audience that the investigation into his mother’s assassination was “designed to fail”, and that impunity reigned in Malta.
That other bastion of democracy, Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar, also pitched in, suggesting that standing for election would be a test of the validity of Caruana Galizia’s argument. Yet, democracy doesn’t mean what she seems to think it means. Hint: it’s not mob rule.
No stranger to poorly chosen attacks, Cutajar also hit out at Caruana Galizia’s son on the four month anniversary of his mother’s assassination, telling him his calls for justice were “embarissing” (sic), tagging Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who has never condemned this behaviour from his members of government.
Caruana Galizia addressed the Labour MP’s comment on Saturday, reminding her that “democracy is not a ritual of voting once every five years for the same political party. It’s human rights, the rule of law, freedom from fear, corruption, oppression, abuse of power, propaganda and harassment”.
“And yes, freedom from being murdered for expressing yourself,” he added.
Democracy is not a ritual of voting once every five years for the same political party. It’s human rights, the rule of law, freedom from fear, corruption, oppression, abuse of power, propaganda and harassment. And yes, freedom from being murdered for expressing yourself. https://t.co/xsIXH5G8BG
— Matthew Caruana Galizia (@mcaruanagalizia) April 6, 2019
No justice in 18 months. Continued harassment and impunity. All in the public domain. And they think Caruana Galizia’s speech is what’s ruining Malta’s reputation. They don’t seem to understand that their own actions show the world exactly what they are.
The point Caruana Galizia made in his speech in Perugia is clearer than ever: they have weakened institutions, the judiciary and the media in Malta to ensure impunity for their crimes.
“We thought it would be the first step towards justice,” Caruana Galizia told the audience, describing the Panama Papers revelations which his mother was the first to expose in Malta. “But instead they went on the offensive against us. I was unable to believe that these political figures in Malta were so brazen – not only were they denying it, but they were attacking us”.
Watch Matthew Caruana Galizia’s speech in full below: