Murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is my Woolly Days Media Personality of the Year. Caruana Galizia died in a car bomb explosion in October. A pre-trial hearing into the murder trial of three suspects heard the bomb was an “organic explosive” detonated via mobile phone message, after an operation lasting three months. Caruana Galizia was killed because she got too close to the truth, paying the ultimate price for her journalistic work, and in an era of contracting media and “fake news” deserves the ninth iteration of my award.
Since 2009, it is my look back at media events, people and incidents of the year, The award reflects who I think has stood out in the field in the calendar year. There is no black tie event, no actual award and the winners are totally oblivious and would have probably been unimpressed anyway (apart from Clementine Ford in 2015 who did notice and was kind enough appreciate it). Sadly for the second year in a row the award is given posthumously.
The nature of the award has changed over the years. The first award went to ABC boss Mark Scott in 2009 for standing up to the dominance of Rupert Murdoch in Australian media. Scott impressed not only for taking on the behemoth but also putting the Australian national broadcaster firmly in the digital domain.
Twelve months later a newcomer had taken that message of digital journalism to heart. Julian Assange‘s early work with Wikileaks opened up huge possibilities for whistleblower journalism. Wikileaks was as flawed as Assange’s personality particularly the lack of masking of private data but also asked uncomfortable questions of big companies that inspired the later NSA and Panama Papers leaks. Assange’s descent into irrelevancy began with his asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid Swedish sex charges. He remains a “guest” five years later though given the turn to the right in South American politics, one wonders how much longer that will be a safe haven. Perhaps it explains his own switch to the right over the years.
Assange’s global impact gave my award a wider focus. When I returned to the theme of Murdoch in 2011 I gave it to British journalists The Guardian’s Nick Davies and his editor Alan Rusbridger for their work staring down the police, the government and the right-wing press in publishing allegations in the phone hacking affair. Judge Brian Leveson took it further in 2012 overseeing the painstaking testimony in the inquiry that followed. That included Rupert Murdoch himself calling it his “biggest humiliation” (though he quickly and shamelessly moved on).
In 2013 Edward Snowden won the award for audacious reveals of NSA work. His disclosures revealed global surveillance programs, run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance with help from telecommunication companies and European governments. Like Assange his willingness to reveal items of national security endangered his life and like Assange Wikileaks tried to get him to Ecuador. Like Assange he remains in hiding in legal limbo but in Putin’s Russia.
My 2014 award went to jailed Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Basher Mohamed for their bravery in standing up to the Egyptian legal system although their meddling Qatari employer was not blameless. In 2015 it went to Clementine Ford for her feminist truth bombs and 2016 went to David Bowie, mainly for being David Bowie and dying early in the year.
His death set off a meme that 2016 was the worst year ever. Arguably 2017 is worse still what with conflation of “false news” and false news by the master of both types, Donald Trump. People have seen many worrying parallels with the late 1930s as Trump and Putin encourage the rise of totalitarianism and legitimise far right-wing groups. As Hannah Arendt noted in 1951 totalitarianism does not need convinced Nazis or dedicated communists “but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists”.
As extreme right wing politicians take power across the world, the wealthy do what they always have done – accumulate power and wealth illegally. They also use all means including murder to keep their dirty work secret. This is why public interest journalism remains so important even if the media that employs them is rapidly denuding. Daphne Caruana Galizia, was one of the best, a prominent Maltese investigative journalist and blogger who moved from her earlier employment with newspapers to get the word out through investigative blogs. She paid the ultimate price for her courage.
Caruana Galiza was killed on October 16, 2017 by a car bomb as she left her home near Valletta. At her funeral in November at Malta’s biggest church. Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who led the funeral mass, told journalists present not to be afraid. “I encourage you never to grow weary in your mission to be the eyes, the ears and the mouth of the people … We need people in your profession who are unshackled, who are free, intelligent, inquisitive, honest, serene, safe and protected.”
Like Caruana Galizia I am a 53-year-old journalist and from time to time I’m the eyes, ears and mouths of my people – but that is where resemblances end. Whereas the worst I have to put up with is the occasional insult to me or my paper, Caruana Galizia paid for her craft with her life. Along with Tetyana Chornovil, Anna Politkovskaya and Veronica Guerin, Galizia was a fearless female journalist not afraid to put herself in danger for her work. According to the CPJ, she was one of 42 journalists killed across the world in 2017, including eight in Iraq, seven in Syria and six in Mexico.
Caruana Galizia was most famous for reporting on Maltese political links to the Panama Papers. An anonymous source first leaked the papers in 2015 to a German newspaper. They are 11.5 million leaked documents from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca that detail financial and attorney–client information for almost a quarter of a million offshore entities. This entry into the shady world of tax minimisation (especially in Panama) and sanctions avoidance is a logical next step of the big data journalism pioneered by Wikileaks and Snowden’s collaborations with the Guardian and the NYT.
The Panama Papers named 12 world leaders including Malta’s. Caruana Galizia’s blog, Running Commentary with its investigative reports and commentary on politicians, was one of the most widely read websites in Malta and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was the subject of many of her reports. Caruana Galizia’s reports about Muscat’s connection to the Panama Papers scandal forced him to call early elections in June 2017, after criticism from the European Parliament.
The Panama Papers linked Muscat minister Konrad Mizzi, and the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, to shell companies in Panama. Mizzi’s wife, Sai Mizzi Liang, Malta’s trade envoy to China and Consul General for Malta in Shanghai was also named as beneficiary, with their children, of a trust based in New Zealand holding Mizzi’s Panama shell company. Caruana Galizia alleged Muscat and his wife’s offshore company received over US$1 million from a Dubai company owned by Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
Caruana Galizia also upset Malta’s opposition leader Adrian Delia. Delia filed four lawsuits after her articles claimed he laundered $US1.3m from prostitution in London through offshore accounts in his name. Delia said the account belonged to his client and he had resigned from the company that owned the property where the prostitution took place after becoming aware of the way it was being used. In February a court ordered Caruana Galizia’s bank accounts to be frozen until a libel case verdict that two government officials had filed against her. A public fundraising campaign raised enough cash to satisfy the court’s demands.
These were dangerous people to upset and all had a motive to harm her. Caruana Galizia told police two weeks before her death she had received death threats. When she died Muscat condemned the attack “on press freedom” and said the FBI would assist local police in the investigation. “Everyone knows Ms. Caruana Galizia was a harsh critic of mine, both politically and personally but nobody can justify this barbaric act in any way,” Muscat said. Delia also denied involvement.
On December 4, Maltese police arrested 10 suspects in connection with the murder. Seven were released on bail pending the investigation and three–Vince Muscat (no relation to the PM) and brothers George and Alfredo Degiorgio–were charged with murder on December 5. The trio are Maltese criminals but pleaded not guilty. More importantly even if guilty they were likely to be hit men. As Malta Today reported “the command structure of the criminal operation is understood to have been very loosely connected and the assassination is thought to have been sub-contracted and then sub-contracted again to make the figure who ultimately ordered the killing harder to trace.”
The Caruana Galizia family criticised the lack of communication about the arrests saying they were not contacted in advance and learned about the developments at the same time as the press. The manner in which the arrests were communicated, the family said, indicated “serious institutional deficiencies which are cause for general public concern.” The family has taken legal action against Maltese police, saying the investigation cannot be impartial because Caruana Galizia wrote critical articles about the chief investigator and the government minister to whom he is married.
“My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists,” her son Matthew Caruana Galizia, also an investigative journalist, wrote. “But she was also targeted because she was the only person doing so. This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated: the last person left standing is often a journalist. Which makes her the first person left dead.”
In her last blog post, written just before her death, Caruana Galizia issued a haunting warning in her final line. “There are crooks everywhere you look,” she wrote. “The situation is desperate.” It is of little consolation to Daphne Caruana Galizia or her family but she is an inspiration to journalists everywhere and a deserving media personality of 2017.