It was ultimately more surprising that a government spokesperson issued a statement ‘condemning’ Anthony De Giovanni’s comments about Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination given the part government officials played in planting and encouraging the spread of these false narratives.
The gratuitous claims made by Anthony De Giovanni during a radio show, insinuating that Matthew Caruana Galizia was somehow responsible for his mother’s assassination is not an original idea, nor is it a recent phenomenon.
The counter-narratives connected to the murder of Caruana Galizia started mere months following her death, many of which were orchestrated and disseminated by individuals working within the Office of the Prime Minister, and none of these were ever ‘condemned’ by senior government officials, or by their spokespersons.
These ideas have now settled in the collective memory of the government’s most fervent supporters who can now go on popular radio shows repeating what they now believe to be true.
A brief history
Part of The Shift’s investigation into the secret Facebook groups working to dehumanise and isolate Caruana Galizia included data that had been collected on the disinformation narratives that started mere days after the journalist’s death.
The role of government whip Glenn Bedingfield in generating hostility towards the journalist and her family is well documented by The Shift and by the board of the public inquiry into her murder, but it may be worth remembering that following Caruana Galizia’s death, Bedingfield continued to plant all manner of misleading and distorted narratives. These included raising doubts about Caruana Galizia’s missing laptop and repeatedly insinuating that her family was attempting to derail the investigation into her murder.
The day after Bedingfield first mentioned the missing laptop, banners went up all over Malta asking where the laptop was. This was part of a well-coordinated anonymous campaign called the ‘Truth Project’ that was aimed squarely at undermining the Daphne Project, organised by a consortium of international investigative journalists.
The Truth Project’s stories were shared on social media primarily by Labour government aides, even though they told the board of the public inquiry that they hadn’t heard of the ‘Truth Project’. As recently as 16 June, Bedingfield stood up in parliament and made a speech in which he continued to make the same shocking allegations about Caruana Galizia’s family.
But it wasn’t just Bedingfield. There was also Josef Caruana: he – perhaps more pertinently – was one of the first government officials within the OPM who, also in 2018, uploaded a Facebook post listing “strange-but-true” points, including, Daphne’s car being left outside overnight.
Before being assigned to Castille, Caruana had come under fire for penning two editorials in the GWU-owned daily newspaper L-Orizzont that called for the purging of journalists (which he named) who dared criticise the Labour government and who ran stories on corruption.
Malta's governing party worked hand in hand with murderers to throw suspicion for my mother's assassination upon my family. It has done little to undo the effect of propaganda, which we live with every day. https://t.co/vas3I0Lpy5
— Matthew Caruana Galizia (@mcaruanagalizia) November 22, 2021
When the judges on the board of inquiry confronted him with fake news and insinuations that he ‘shared’ he insisted that all he did was come across these items, authored by others, and shared them, implying that his pushing of certain stories was a “neutral” act.
The Shift explained how this was nonsense because, just like his colleague Bedingfield, communications coming from within OPM have the implicit backing of the State, and that by sharing the articles he gave them a value and authority that they previously did not have.
One click after another, Bedingfield and Caruana’s narratives spread among party propagandists and party supporters alike and were further amplified by other conspiracy theorists with their own growing audience. A self-sustaining cycle of conspiracy and distortion, aimed at lodging itself over the course of time into the collective psyche of government supporters.
Baffling surprise and pointless condemnation
This is why the shocked reactions to De Giovanni’s comments and the government’s comments on the matter are utterly pointless. The insidious counter-narrative of which De Giovanni’s comments formed part of, and which he was so comfortable to repeat on air, has been in place since 2018 and has been allowed to flourish unchecked for three years (and counting).
What use is this statement by the government – “Statements such as this need to stop immediately, more so when the government is intent on working along the lines of the public inquiry, which emphasised the need for reconciliation. The prime minister is determined to keep working towards this aim” – if propagandists still run amok on social media platforms, where their one single task appears to be to churn out and disseminate whatever narrative the Labour Party wishes to transmit to its supporters?
It was ultimately more surprising that a government spokesperson issued a statement at all, let alone one saying that, “these comments definitely do not represent government’s or the Labour Party’s position on this matter”. Whose, then?